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Wear your face mask, lockdown exit expert says

Virologist Erika Vlieghe chairs the GEES, the group of experts advising the government on how to take the country out of lockdown. © Belga

Erika Vlieghe, a virologist who chairs the group of experts behind the lockdown exit strategy, has said that not enough people are using face masks in public. 

In an interview with Radio 1 on Monday, the leading virologist of Belgium’s Group of Experts for an Exit Strategy (GEES) said there was a “real interest” in making more people wear face masks in public places.

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

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

“We have a real interest in [using] those masks, especially as we increasingly return to indoor places and meet more people.”

Vlieghe’s comments clash with the advice given by top health officials at the beginning of the pandemic, who in comments to the media and FAQs destined for the wider population said that masks were only useful for people who were sick.

Federal Health Minister Maggie De Block was vocal about minimising the need for the wider public to wear facemasks, cited repeatedly in media saying that masks gave a “false sense of security.”

In the interview, Vlieghe also expressed concern over recent events during which hordes of people flouted social-distancing rules, citing a massive Black Lives Matter demonstration in Brussels but also crowded bars and restaurants as well as two lockdown parties at the weekend.

Vlieghe said that clearer communication was needed from the part of the government to help residents better adapt to the “new normal.”

“It needs to be clearer,” Vlieghe said. “It is important to emphasise that everyone should take responsibility, there are protocols and agreements and they must be followed.”

Gabriela Galindo
The Brussels Times