Coronavirus: experts already recommended face masks in February
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Coronavirus: experts already recommended face masks in February

Credit: Belga

The experts of the Risk Assessment Group (RAG) were already stressing the usefulness of mouth masks as early as 21 February, according to its recently published reports, which most of the Flemish newspapers are reporting on Thursday.

The RAG stated that reusable and washable masks would be needed to combat the coronavirus, “because it is predicted that there will be a shortage of cheap disposable masks if a pandemic develops in the near future”.

The recommendation related to people with symptoms indicating a respiratory disorder, and for those entering the same room as suspected coronavirus (Covid-19) cases with mild symptoms.

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On 8 March, the RAG then gave its opinion on a possible outbreak in Belgium: we must eventually prepare for large-scale measures such as the cancellation of events and the closure of public places, the experts wrote.

At the time, they advised against closing schools, because it already seemed at that time that children were not major vectors. Nevertheless, four days later, the schools were closed.

Also on 8 March, the RAG had concluded that it was impossible to conduct contact tracing within a reasonable period of time. The system was finally put in place in May.

Belgium has seen controversy surrounding face masks, starting in mid-March, at the beginning of the country’s lockdown, when it was revealed that then- and current Health Minister Maggie De Block had had a strategic supply of FFP2 masks destroyed and failed to replace them.

More recently, a batch of 15 million face masks ordered by the federal government and set to be distributed from next week did not meet official safety standards according to textile federations.

The Brussels Times