A common and coordinated strategy to provide a means of protection to every citizen
As of 4 May - the start of the phasing out in Belgium - wearing a means of protection covering the mouth and nose from the age of 12 is strongly recommended in public places and compulsory in public transport (decision of the National Security Council on the basis of the GEES expert report). You are required to wear a mask as you enter a train or metro station and when you are waiting at a stop.
In schools, pupils over 12 years of age and staff must wear a face mask or a different means of protection all day long (a homemade mask or a mask made of fabric, provided it is replaced regularly, in accordance with the guidelines)
As a reminder, 'wearing a means of protection' means wearing a face mask or an alternative fully covering the mouth and nose (scarf, bandana, etc.).
In addition to local and sector-wide initiatives, the federated states, with the support of the federal government, will roll out a common strategy, as part of the prevention policy, to enable all citizens to get a standardised means of protection, free of charge. All levels of government (federal, regions, communities, municipalities) are taking multiple initiatives to achieve this goal.
As previously announced, masks will be used in the workplace if social distancing guidelines cannot be respected. It will be the responsibility of employers - private or public - to protect employees where necessary and in line with their working conditions.
Since the beginning of the crisis, Flanders has purchased face masks for the industries under its responsibility.
This includes both surgical masks and FFP2/FFP3 masks. These purchases are also in line with the framework of agreements made within the Risk Management Group.
For the next phase as well, Flanders will ensure deliveries of mouth masks coordinated by Het Facilitair Bedrijf (The Facilities Company). This coordination implies a double role, with Het Facilitair Bedrijf acting as: (1) single, centralised purchasing centre for means of protection on behalf of the Flemish government in its capacity as employer and (2) supplier of last resort for privatised entities, organisations and local authorities that wish to make use of the expertise of Het Facilitair Bedrijf. Of the more than 18 million masks ordered, 10 million masks have been delivered and about 6 million masks have already been distributed. Flanders has also placed orders for other means of protection (gloves, aprons, goggles, hand gels,...).
On Monday 27 April, the government issued a request for tenders to purchase 2 million masks. The deadline for submitting tenders was yesterday, Friday. ONE (Office de la Naissance et de l'Enfance) also placed an order for 45,000 masks to be delivered in phases between 5 May and the end of May. In addition, 23,000 masks from the Brussels region were delivered on Wednesday 29 April. From 4 May, childcare centres must be equipped with masks (15,000 people). Youth care services will also have to be provided with masks.
Finally, the Federation wishes to provide masks to teaching staff and pupils (6th grade and above) as lessons gradually resume on 18 May.
In parallel with regular orders for surgical masks and FFP2 masks for professionals, and orders for comfort masks and surgical masks for Walloon civil servants, the Walloon government has decided to grant the Walloon municipalities flat-rate financing of up to € 2 per inhabitant for the purchase of comfort masks. Such funding may not be combined with a grant from another policy level for the same purpose.
Municipalities are encouraged to use framework contracts set up at the nearest supralocal or inter-municipal level. They will be able to make use of various instruments to facilitate implementation (legal support, template tenders, etc.). Managing orders, payment and distribution will be handled at a local level.
The financial resources can be used for all past, present or future local or supra-local initiatives and will be allocated to the municipalities on the basis of a decision by the municipal council or, failing this, a decision by the municipal college, which will be confirmed by the municipal council within three months.
Local authorities have also set up various initiatives, either individually or within supra-communal structures, to provide citizens with masks.
The Brussels-Capital Region has entrusted the purchase of up to 3.5 million reusable fabric masks with filters for the inhabitants of the Region, the administrations and the regional (and, if there is a demand for them, the municipal) institutions of public interest to Brussels Prevention and Security (BPS). The request for tenders was sent to Belgian and foreign companies last Wednesday.
The Brussels tender consists of three lots: fabric masks with a filter, fabric masks without a filter and a lot of filters for the masks. Tenderers may submit a tender for one or more lots and there is no restriction on the number of lots that may be awarded to a single contractor.
The German-speaking Community placed an order for 340,000 fabric masks with two suppliers based in Eupen (Rom and Polytex). The distribution of masks will be organized by the municipalities. Each family will have its own fixed quota. Anyone 12 years of age or older is entitled to three masks. Distribution is scheduled for the first half of May.
The German-speaking Community will also equip schools, childcare facilities and other forms of collective care such as youth care. On the other hand, residential care centres, such as institutions for persons with disabilities, will use medical protective equipment.
The federal government has launched a public tender to buy 12 million standard, fabric face masks via the Ministry of Defence. That tender is ongoing.
To increase the level of protection of masks already purchased or homemade masks, filters have also been ordered (2 per person). Distribution of these filters will be handled in five waves, per province. As of Sunday, approximately 1 million filters will be distributed to the provincial distribution centres, via the Ministry of Defence. By the end of next week, 6.8 million filters will have been distributed. By the end of May, the total number will reach 22 million.
As recommended by the Group of Experts in charge of the Exit Strategy (GEES), the sale of surgical masks to private individuals will be authorised. To this end, the Royal Decree of 23 March 2020 is suspended. The effect of this suspension will be continuously monitored. The wholesale distribution sector is taking measures to ensure that sales are made in a reasoned and regulated manner, so as to avoid mass buying to the detriment of the public interest. The wholesale distribution industry has undertaken not to turn sales into a commercial transaction and to guarantee the quality of the products sold. It also undertakes to organise the sale in such a way that physical distance is respected and that a maximum number of families can quickly access a batch of masks.
The Federal Government considers it important to focus all initiatives on the sustainable use of means of protection. It therefore encourages people to favour fabric masks provided by the local, regional or federal authorities or by shops, or to prefer homemade masks equipped with a filter. The wholesale distribution industry is invited to replace disposable masks by more sustainable alternatives as much as possible.
Finally, the various initiatives will be accompanied by tutorials and other manuals, which will be easily accessible to the public. In this way, everyone can make their own masks in complete safety, wear them in the most suitable way and be sure of the quality of the masks purchased. The FPS Public Health supports the #nationalenaaiactie, launched by two citizens' initiatives to make their own mouth masks. All information is available on www.maakjemondmasker.be: the pattern and instructions for making masks, with or without sewing machine. The pattern has been validated by virologists.
Surgical and FFP2 masks
Surgical and FFP2 masks will still primarily be reserved for those who need them most: healthcare professionals, residential care centres, institutions and also the security services. Interfederal stocks that already exist or are being created can therefore only be used for those categories.
Stock levels are also continuously monitored. Current stocks include 35 million surgical masks and 2.5 million FFP2 masks. New orders are still being placed. These masks will be added to the stock after verification. A common table of orders for the different levels of government has been created. Together, the different levels of government have already distributed more than 76 million surgical masks and more than 10 million FFP2 masks to healthcare personnel and security services. A federal production initiative has also been launched that will deliver 4 million surgical and 190,000 FFP2 masks to our country every week. It starts in mid-May with 1 million surgical masks per week and is then scaled up further.
A Walloon initiative, supported by the Walloon government, will also produce more than 1.1 million surgical masks a week. These production lines will be operational by the end of May. At the same time, the Walloon government is working on disinfecting surgical masks and FFP2s.
In addition to what has been undertaken at the federal level, the wholesale distribution industry undertakes to order 5 million surgical masks per week for the federal or inter-federal stock. The industry has also undertaken to sell its entire stock of surgical masks to the Belgian State if public health so requires.
As a reminder
The authorities stress once again that a mask does not in itself offer sufficient protection to whoever wears it. It should be seen as a complement to fundamental precautionary measures such as limiting social contacts, maintaining physical distance and complying with hygiene measures.