First Belgian town makes face masks mandatory from 6 years old

First Belgian town makes face masks mandatory from 6 years old
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In Courcelles, a town near the Walloon city of Charleroi, all children from 6 years old will have to wear a face mask to school from Monday.

The measure makes Courcelles the first town in Belgium to make it compulsory for primary school pupils to wear a mask to school. In the rest of the country, masks are only mandatory for pupils in secondary school.

The municipality council said that they made the decision based on advice issued by the World Health Organisation (WHO), and because the coronavirus situation in Belgium is still not under control, it announced on its Facebook page.

For everyone over 12, wearing a face mask or an alternative made of fabric that covers mouth and nose, or a face shield when a mask is not possible for medical reasons remains mandatory until at 13 December, when the current federal lockdown measures are set to end.

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Some Flemish cities and institutions are also considering imposing a similar obligation. The city of Deinze, in the East-Flanders province, handed out 10,000 masks to primary schools on Friday. Children will not be obliged to wear them, but it is recommended.

The Flemish socialist education trade union has also called for an obligation in primary schools, as it is afraid the reopening will cause a new rise in infections.

"We will continue to monitor the situation and if, within 14 days, it turns out that the infection rates are back on the rise and the only relaxation of the measures was the opening of the schools, then we will know that stricter measures are needed in the education sector," Nancy Libert of the union told VRT.

Experts have also discussed the possible measure, but decided against it, as they are not sure if young children will be able to wear and handle the masks correctly.

"Forcing young children to wear a mouth mask is not a matter of course," said virologist Steven Van Gucht. "And it is important not to lose sight of other effective measures. The ventilation of the classrooms, for example."

According to him, it is important to not simply copy policy from abroad, such as Italy, which also made masks mandatory in primary schools.

"One should not start taking all kinds of measures in a panic, wearing a face mask is not a magic solution," he said, stressing the need for integrated policy.

Maïthé Chini

The Brussels Times

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