Brussels keeps mask mandate as rest of Belgium relaxes rules

Belgium will drop its requirement for face masks to be worn in shops, restaurants and at work from October 1. But in Brussels, the mandate is staying, the country’s leaders announced on Friday.

Prime Minister Alexander De Croo said that in Belgium it will remain compulsory to wear a mask on public transport, as well as in the health care sector. The announcement came with the proviso that regions can decide to implement more stringent requirements, which Brussels has indicated it will be doing.

Brussels government chief Rudi Vervoort explained that due to the epidemiological situation and the vaccination rate in Brussels, the mask mandate needed to stay.

Earlier this month, the Brussels government announced it would be mandating coronavirus passports in bars, restaurants, sports clubs and at events, given the lower rate of vaccination in the region. 

Explaining the dropping of the mask mandate for the rest of the country, De Croo said that this didn’t mean that masks were no longer useful. “There are places where it remains useful, for example in places where ventilation is difficult and where many people are close to each other, such as on public transport,” he said.

De Croo also said that nightclubs would reopen as of October 1, provided immunity certificates are used.

From October 1 it will be mandatory to present an immunity certificate at indoor events of more than 500 people and outdoor events of more than 750 people. 

In recent days, several Flemish politicians have called for the measures to be relaxed in the north of the country, taking into account the region’s high vaccination rate. On the other side of the language border, there is more caution. In Flanders and Wallonia, 91 percent and 79 percent of adults have been vaccinated, respectively, while in Brussels, 64 percent of adults have been fully jabbed. 

Some Belgian experts advising the government cautioned against removing the mask obligation too quickly, just before fall and winter, when there is fear that coronavirus case numbers could rise. 

Ashleigh Furlong contributed reporting.

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