During the outbreak of the corona virus, our country was struggling with a dire lack of face masks. In Pano, several care providers testified on Wednesday evening that they were not allowed to wear masks because there were simply too few. These witnesses fear that this lack of masks has contributed to the death toll from Covid-19 in our country, both in residential care centers and in hospitals.
We could have saved lives, experts suspect. They rely on remnants of a stock of mouth masks that was destroyed years ago. A few copies from that stock that did not end up in incinerators at the time, ended up in the hands of the Pano reporters. They had them analyzed in labs at the University of Antwerp and Centexbel, the organization that tests the conformity of textile materials to the standards.
This analysis shows that the masks meet the requirements imposed by the government. “I would have used them instead of destroying them”, says researcher Regan Watts (UAntwerpen) in the report.
Everything revolves around the millions of mouth masks that were purchased by the then government in 2006 as part of a pandemic plan. The mouth masks were stored in the Belgrade barracks, near Namur. But the storage left something to be desired, causing a number of masks to be damaged. At the end of 2015, Minister De Block therefore had a first part of the masks destroyed. Five million expired FFP2 masks went into the incinerator.
The remaining 22 million surgical face masks remained in the barracks until the end of 2018. Because the military domain was to be sold, De Block’s cabinet decided to have these masks destroyed as well. The surgical mouth masks would not have had an expiration date. It was not clear whether they were in bad shape. Nevertheless, De Block’s services would never have tested these masks for their quality. Destruction turned out to be cheaper than storing them elsewhere, according to internal correspondence that Pano could access. Mouth masks may have been destroyed while they were actually still perfectly usable.
It had been known for some time that the old stock was destroyed. That it was destroyed so rashly, and possibly unjustly, is new. In a response to the VRT, former minister De Block says that “it is what it is”. De Block: “I feel free to take my political responsibility, but not for operational matters. Not for all mistakes and cours de route. If I had to do that with three departments, I could also mop the barracks where other things are stored. ”