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Face mask donations support exposed medical staff

18:18 17/03/2020
From Flanders Today

Face masks are rapidly becoming a focus in efforts to manage the coronavirus epidemic in Belgium. A large delivery was confirmed by the federal government yesterday, while initiatives have begun to ensure the masks already in circulation make it to hospitals, where they are most needed.

Wearing a face mask has only a minor effect on your chances of catching the corona virus if you are out and about, but is essential protection if you live or work with people who may have the virus. For this reason, the top priority is to make sure that doctors, nurses and others working in the health-care system have the masks they need to stay safe.

Federal health minister Maggie De Block confirmed on Monday that half a million face masks and 30,000 Covid-19 test kits would arrive in the country this week, donated by the Alibaba and Jack Ma Foundations in China. The majority will go directly to hospitals and care homes.

“Our healthcare providers are on the front line in the fight against the new coronavirus,” De Block said, “and we must protect them as much as possible.”

Meanwhile the government is investigating the failure of a Turkish company to fill an order for five million face masks. According De Morgen, the same producer also agreed to supply the government of Flanders with some one million masks, and this order is also in doubt.

The federal government has joined individual hospitals and doctors’ associations in appealing for people to donate unopened boxes of face masks, so that healthcare staff can be protected. Details of the kind of mask sought are set out by UZ Leuven.

According to VRT, the town council in Deinze, East Flanders, has donated its stock of 750 face masks to local doctors and dentists, arguing that its own staff are now adequately protected by working from home. Meanwhile the mayor of Diest in Flemish Brabant has ordered all companies in the municipality to redistribute any masks they have.

Property developer Goodman, based in Vilvoorde, has donated 600 masks to its local hospital, AZ Jan Portaels. Spontaneous donations are also reported in cities such as Antwerp and Turnhout.

Finally, initiatives are spreading to make more face masks locally, with some hospitals running classes for skilled amateur needleworkers. Inmates at Oudenaarde prison are also beginning to produce masks in their sewing workshop.

“The workshop used to make masks for an external company, and we’ve requested patterns to be able to do it on a larger scale,” Kathleen Van De Vijver, prison system spokesperson, told VRT. “The idea came from the detainees themselves, and of course we support them.”

Photo: Harbucks/iStock/Getty Images

Written by Ian Mundell (Flanders Today)