BRUSSELS – Mask update and future lockdown phase-out

Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès (MR) and several of her ministers appeared before the Belgian parliament on Thursday for the first tim after Belgium’s National Security Council (CNS) had to extend the coronavirus containment measures by two weeks until 19 April.

Asked whether mouth masks would make sense for the entire population, Wilmes referred to the advice of the WHO. “Mouth masks should go to sick people and health care personnel. Even if it would be advisable for the entire population, that would not be possible at the moment,” she said.

“Mouth masks have little added value and can even give a false sense of security. We have a sufficient stock of masks and gloves for those who need it,” health minister Maggie De Block (Open VLD) added.

Meanwhile, Minister Philippe De Backer (Open VLD) gave an update about the orders and deliveries of medical equipment telling lawmakers that 22.6 million surgical masks have been delivered, 20 million distributed, and 25 million have been ordered.

“1.75 million specialized FFP2 masks have already been delivered, 1.25 million masks have been distributed, and another 9.1 million have been ordered,” De Backer said, adding that his task force has ordered another 9.1 million.

“We are forced to purchase abroad as well. Suspicious deliveries are excluded, we will not tolerate malicious orders. Only if the conditions of safety are met, they will be put on the market,” he told Belgian MPs.

“But despite all precautions, we get such a heterogeneous supply of mouth masks that it cannot be ruled out that there is occasionally a lot of insufficient quality,” De Backer said.

The number of daily tests is meant to increase from 4,500 to 10,000 this weekend, while 20,000 tests are distributed to nursing homes.

Meanwhile, Wilmes also announced on Thursday (2 April) that a group of high-level experts, chaired by health experts, will start preparing a plan for a gradual phase out of Belgium’s lockdown that was imposed to contain the further spread of the virus.

 Last week, Wilmès announced that the far-reaching measures would be extended until at least 19 April, with a possibility of a further extension until 3 May.

(Alexandra Brzozowski | EURACTIV.com)

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