Unions back virologists' call for mouth masks to be made mandatory in shops

The Christian and socialist trade unions are backing a call made by a number of virologists to made the wearing of mouth masks mandatory in shops and supermarkets. On Monday Leuven University’s Marc Van Ranst and the Antwerp University infectious diseases expert Steven Van Gucht both said that they are in favour of making the wearing of masks inside retail premises mandatory now that it has become busier at the shops and it is more difficult to maintain social distancing while shopping. Currently, the wearing of masks is “strongly advised”, but not mandatory. 

The unions that represent workers in the retail industry back the call for masks to be made mandatory. Jan De Weghe of the socialist trade union BBTK told VRT News that "Initially after the lockdown everyone reached for a mask and was inclined to wear it as a matter of course. Now if a member of staff in a store asks them to wear a mask people almost just laugh at them. We have noticed that increasingly customers think that the danger is behind them and that they no longer need to wear a mask”.

This view is shared by Kristel Van Damme , who is in charge of the trade and distribution division of the Christian trade union ACV Puls. "A survey of our members shows that in almost 75% of cases social distancing of 1.5 metres can no longer be maintained. Either the customers comes too close or the members of staff are too close to each other. This is why we believe that it is important that both customers and members of staff in shops wear mouth masks.

“Too few customers wearing”

Currently it is only “very strongly advised” to where a mask while inside a shop. The unions say that this doesn’t go far enough.

"Unfortunately we see far too few on the streets or in shops. We see very few customers wearing a mask and we believe that it is very important that staff are protected against coronavirus. If masks are mandatory on public transport then I don’t see why they aren’t mandatory in shops”, Mr De Weghe said.

However, while the Christian trade union wants the wearing of mouth masks to be made mandatory for both customers and staff, the socialist trade union only wants customers to be obliged to wear masks. The socialist trade union says that it is mainly customers that are unable to maintain social distancing and as such pose a greater risk when it comes to spreading the virus.

Meanwhile, the Federal Health Minister Maggie De Block (Flemish liberal) said on Monday that she is not a great advocate of making the wearing of masks mandatory. However, she added that the issue would be discussed at Wednesday’s meeting of the National Security Council.