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Face masks. I protect you, you protect me

Since 12 March, we have been adapting our behaviour for our own health and that of others: increased hand hygiene, keeping a physical distance from other people, limiting non-essential contact and staying at home as much as possible, especially when presenting symptoms, and so on. By following all these measures, we are helping healthcare providers in Belgium to manage this COVID-19 pandemic. Soon, a new phase will begin: personal and professional activities will be gradually restarting, in a period where the coronavirus is still present in our society. We will have to adapt, without losing sight of the basic rules. Wearing a face mask will be an additional measure that will help us make this transition successful.

After the National Security Council meeting of 24 April, Prime Minister Sophie Wilmès indicated that wearing (fabric) face masks will play an important role in the relaxation of the measures, gradually as from 4 May. The covering of mouth and nose will be compulsory on public transport from 4 May for travellers from the age of 12. It must be worn from the moment one arrives at the station or bus/tram stop. In the workplace, it will be mandatory to wear a face mask when social distancing cannot be guaranteed. As soon as schools are re-opened in a later phase, it could be mandatory for staff members and children from the age of 12 to wear face masks.

The Prime Minister also indicated that initiatives will be implemented so that every citizen will have at least one fabric face mask. Each citizen will also receive two filters to put into masks already bought or made. Further information concerning these initiatives will be communicated shortly.

Please note: the recommendation to wear a face mask complements the previous guidelines. The best thing you can do to protect yourself is to wash your hands regularly and keep a physical distance of 1.5 metres from others. If you have to cough or sneeze, do this into a paper handkerchief or into your elbow.

Wearing a face mask is not about protecting yourself, but rather about protecting others.

The face mask must meet certain criteria to provide this protection but above all it must be used correctly. So read the recommendations carefully.

Why are face masks recommended? How do you make a face mask? How should you use a face mask? An answer to these questions can be found on this page and via the frequently asked questions.

Read the frequently asked questions

Face masks

Why are face masks recommended for the new phase?

The most effective measures for combatting the spread of COVID-19 are regularly washing your hands and maintaining a physical distance of 1.5 metres from people you do not live with.

As from 4 May, people will gradually be able to return to work, businesses will gradually begin to re-open and our social lives can be resumed. This means that new situations will arise: people will be in contact with each other once more. That makes it very important for us to show solidarity with one another and to prevent a second wave of the epidemic.

Wearing a mask will be used as an additional measure.

Take public transport, for example. Wearing a face mask helps avoid contaminating the environment. This is of little importance if it is an environment where only you are present or if it is in the open air, but on the bus, for example, it can be useful to wear a face mask. Even if you are the only person on the bus right now, because the pole you are holding might be held by someone else in a few minutes. The number of people using public transport will increase, which will also make it more difficult to keep a minimum distance of 1.5 metres. It will therefore be mandatory to wear a face mask on public transport, primarily to protect others.

It remains important to wash your hands thoroughly before and after taking public transport. It is also important to keep a distance of 1.5 metres, for example at the bus stop.

A face mask is not a silver bullet. It is an additional means to counter the spread of COVID-19 and to help everyone return to normal life as far as possible.


What protection does a face mask offer?

Wearing a face mask is not about protecting yourself, but rather about protecting others.

Imagine yourself as a confetti machine. The droplets you produce when you cough, sneeze, talk or breathe are confetti, possibly infected with the virus. How do you prevent these confetti from reaching other people? By placing a physical barrier between the confetti machine (yourself) and other people. Where should this barrier be to prevent the spread of confetti? Directly in front of the machine sending out the confetti. This barrier is the face mask.

Your face mask protects others from your confetti. Another person’s face mask protects you from their confetti. Please note: this is only additional protection. Keeping a distance of 1.5 metres and washing your hands regularly remain the most effective measures. It is also important to wash your hands before touching your face.

Another important thing is that the face mask is of good quality and that it is worn and treated well.

Under what circumstances should I wear my face mask?

Wearing a face mask was, until now, recommended in two situations:

  • For people who are ill, to avoid them infecting other people.
  • For professional healthcare providers and for people who are caring for others. These people will wear a surgical face mask or FFP2 mask by preference.

It remains crucial for these two categories of people to wear a face mask. FFP2 masks will continue to be reserved for healthcare professionals, residential care centres and residential facilities.

As this pandemic evolves, we are gradually reaching a new phase. The adaptation of some of the measures also means that everyone will once again be making more trips to work or to go shopping, for example. Wearing a face mask will therefore be recommended for anyone who can do this correctly, as you will be coming into contact with others more often (at less than 1.5 metres). It is also recommended when you come into contact with vulnerable people.

Wearing a face mask will also be strongly recommended in public places where social distancing cannot be guaranteed. It will be mandatory on public transport for all travellers from the age of 12, as well as in companies where social distancing cannot be adhered to. This also applies when, for example, you are alone on the train. Wearing a face mask reduces the risk of contaminating surfaces that others will touch later.

Who does not have to wear a face mask?

  • children under the age of 12. They might use the mask the wrong way.
  • people who cannot wear the face mask because they have a disease.

Making face masks

How do I make my own fabric face mask?

Have you decided to get out your sewing machine again and make face masks for yourself and those around you? First and foremost: Your efforts are helping to limit the spread of Covid-19.

Here are a few tips for a successful project:

  • The most important criterion for your fabric face mask is that it covers the nose, mouth and chin.
  • Use thickly woven fabrics, which provide the best protection.
  • Use 2 to 3 layers of fabric.
  • Use fabrics that are easy to breathe through, such as cotton.
  • Using a filter in your face mask can improve its filter capacity, but it can also make it harder to breathe through. This also makes it harder to wear this mask for a long time.
  • Use fabrics you can wash at 60°C.
  • Avoid using fabrics that are too stiff, too warm or irritating.
  • Use two different colours so you can easily see which is the inside of your mask and which is the outside.
  • Choose your face mask in line with what you are going to use it for. A face mask with elastic bands is easier, but also more unpleasant if you have to wear it for a long time. If you need to wear the face mask for a long time, you could opt for one with fabric ribbons. If you only wear the face mask to do some shopping, you could opt for one with elastic bands.
  • Avoid vertical seams in the middle of your mask.
  • Wash your hands carefully before you start making your face mask.
  • Wash the fabric before and after making your face mask. Pre-wash the fabric, because fabrics can shrink in the wash.
  • Keep your face mask in a clean, sheltered place.

You can use one of the models below:

Do not hesitate to take a look at the website https://makefacemasks.com/ for more tips and tricks.

These models were validated by the Risk Management Group, based on the advice from a group comprising experts from Sciensano, the Supreme Health Council, FAMHP, RAG and the FPS Public Health.

Wearing face masks

How do I wear my (fabric) face mask?

Wearing a face mask helps to limit the spread of Covid-19, but only if you wear the mask correctly. Putting it on, taking it off, carrying it, washing it and storing it are all actions that you must take with the necessary care.

Putting on the face mask:

  • Before putting on the face mask, wash your hands thoroughly.
  • Only touch the elastic bands or ribbons when putting on your mask.
  • The face mask should cover your nose, mouth and chin and must fit snugly at the sides.
  • Begin putting on your mask from the top, with a snug fit to your nose. Fasten it below while covering your chin.

Wearing the face mask:

  • As soon as you have put on your face mask, you should avoid touching it.
  • If your mask slips down or is not well fastened, then only touch the sides to reposition it.
  • Avoid putting your mask on and taking it off too often.

Taking off the face mask:

  • When taking off your mask, only touch its elastic bands or ribbons.
  • Once you have taken it off, wash your hands thoroughly.
  • If you need to take the mask off for a short time (to drink, for example), then place it on a clean surface that you can easily sanitise afterwards or place it in an air-permeable bag.

Washing the face mask:

  • The face mask should be changed every 8 hours or every 4 hours if it is used intensively (for example, a teacher in a classroom), or sooner if it is wet or visibly dirty.
  • The face mask should be washed at 60° after every use.
  • The face mask should be washed using detergent in the washing machine at 60°C with the rest of the washing, or it can be boiled in a cooking pot that is only being used for this purpose. If you wash the mask at too low a temperature, for example if you wash it by hand, then you should iron it at a high temperature afterwards.
  • After touching a dirty mask, for example to put it in the washing machine, be sure to wash your hands thoroughly.
  • The mask must be completely dry before you can use it again. It is therefore recommended to have a minimum of two masks.

Storing the mask:

  • Do not leave your face mask lying around at home. Choose a permanent, clean place for your masks and preferably store your used face masks in a sealed fabric bag that you wash along with the mask.
  • Do not touch the clean face mask once this has been washed and never touch it on the inside.
  • Do not put your mask in the fridge or freezer. The cold will not kill the virus and the mask will risk infecting your food.