Ghent upholds face mask mandate in bid to ‘keep schools open’
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Ghent upholds face mask mandate in bid to ‘keep schools open’

© BELGA/ NICOLAS MAETERLINCK

The city of Ghent will uphold a face mask mandate in several public areas in an effort to keep universities and schools open, officials said Friday.

Wearing a face mask will remain mandatory in the city’s pedestrian shopping areas and in the student neighbourhood, city officials said in an online statement.

The decision comes after federal authorities abolished a generalised face mask mandate and said local authorities could decide to uphold it in certain areas, like crowded public places.

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The obligation applies to all residents of the city over the age of 12 and officials said it is part of efforts to avoid having to shut down universities only week into their reopening.

Students and other residents were urged in the online statement to follow the measures so that schools in the city, home to Ghent University, which consistently ranks among the world’s top 100, “can remain open.”

“The number of infections is still increasing, the epidemiological situation is not giving signs of easing at the moment,” said Ghent Mayor Mathias De Clercq.

The city is additionally boosting efforts to screen its large student population for the virus by offering testing without prescription for students who suspect they have had a risky contact.

Ghent officials further decided to maintain schools in code yellow, the second-lowest risk level, until 2 October, with the risk levels set to be evaluated weekly.

In the past 7 days, over 50 infections have been reported among pupils and teachers throughout 35 primary and secondary schools in the city.

In higher education, the city has recorded about 20 infections and an additional ten cases have been detected in part-time and adult training institutions, the city reported.

As the city seeks to strike a balance between health concerns and keeping academic and student activities running, De Clercq on Monday moved to cap the number of people allowed in the city’s school district, after the first night out of the school year saw flout coronavirus rules as they packed bar and restaurant terraces, prompting police to step in.

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times