Masks could become mandatory in supermarkets from Wednesday
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    Masks could become mandatory in supermarkets from Wednesday

    Credit: Nickolay Romensky (CC BY 2.0)

    Wearing face masks should be made mandatory in stores and supermarkets, as highly recommending them is not enough in Belgium, according to several experts.

    On Wednesday, Belgium’s National Security Council (NSC) will discuss further relaxations of the coronavirus measures. The compulsory wearing of a face mask should also be considered, according to several virologists.

    “In this exit phase, the hustle and bustle in department stores and shops gradually increases, and it is not always possible to keep a distance of 1.5 metres,” virologist Marc Van Ranst said in a tweet. “I am in favour of making face masks compulsory in the supermarkets/shops. ‘Highly recommended’ clearly does not work,” he added.

    Supermarkets are busier now than they were a few weeks ago, when wearing a mask was only recommended, according to Van Ranst.

    “Not everyone takes their own cart anymore, and the maximum duration of 30 minutes in a shop has never been checked,” he said in the television programme Terzake.

    Van Ranst compared going to the store with taking the train: you have no control over how crowded it is, and the use of a face mask is mandatory as well. The possibility of an obligation will definitely be on the table for the National Security Council on Wednesday, according to him.

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    On Monday, virologist Erika Vlieghe, who chairs the Group of Experts for the Exit Strategy (GEES), also said that not enough people are using face masks in public.

    “We all have at least one by now, let’s use it,” Vlieghe said on Flemish radio. “[You] wear it to protect others, others wear it to protect you (…) we need to hammer that home again,” she added.

    “I have noticed that I am almost the only one in a shop who is wearing a mask,” Vlieghe said, noting that it was as if people had just suddenly dropped out of the habit.

    State virologist Steven Van Gucht also said that an obligation to wear a mask in supermarkets is an option. “If there is a new flare-up and we notice that this has to do with shopping, face masks in supermarkets can still become compulsory,” he told Het Belang van Limburg last weekend.

    Federal Public Health Minister Maggie De Block said that she was not immediately in favour of such an obligation. However, the National Security Council will consider the possibility, she said.

    Maïthé Chini
    The Brussels Times