Three Brussels mayors who introduced obligatory mask wearing in parts of their communes have expressed satisfaction that the rest of the country has today caught up.
“What took you so long?” asked Olivier Maingain (DéFI) mayor of Woluwe-Saint-Lambert. “This measure should have been introduced in June.”
The commune of Etterbeek introduced an obligation to be masked in shopping streets from May 2, while Woluwe-Saint-Pierre (WSP) and Woluwe-Saint-Lambert (WSL) – which includes Woluwe Shopping Centre, where masks have been compulsory since May 11 – followed a week later.
The local measures were more restricted than those that came into force today, but still earned the mayors criticism from regional representatives. One member of the Brussels parliament even compared the three communes to Checkpoint Charlie and the division of Berlin.
Emir Kir, mayor of Saint-Josse, eventually followed suit, despite a threat from Brussels minister-president Rudi Vervoort (PS) – never carried out – to reverse the order.
In WSP, mayor Benoît Cerexhe (CDH) described the new nationwide rule as “a wise decision”.
And the mayor of Etterbeek, Vincent De Wolf (MR) is claiming a moral victory. “Since the measure works well for us, I am pleased to see that the federal level will apply the rule to the entire country,” he said.
The figures do suggest the measure has had an effect in the communes concerned. Over the last seven days, Etterbeek – the first to apply the measure – saw five cases on its territory. Meanwhile in Evere, with a similar population of around 40,000, had ten in the same period.
Saint-Gilles, with about 50,000 residents comparable to WSL and WSP, saw four new cases, compared to one and none in the two Woluwes respectively.
However, according to Sciensano, the health institute that collates the figures, reported cases are attributed to the municipality of residence of the patient. But that says nothing about where the infection was contracted.
According to microbiologist Patrick De Mol of Liege university, speaking to Bruzz, the link between mask wearing and exact cases is difficult to establish.
“Wearing a mask is just one of the measures that hinder the transmission of the virus,” he said. “But it is certainly not the only factor.”
Above all, the attempt to draw conclusions from comparing small numbers like 10, 4, 1 and zero is impossible, because the differences are statistically negligible.
If there is an effect, and the experts unanimously agree there is one, then it will become clear when large numbers are examined, on the city or even national scale.