BRUSSELS (AP) — Ten months after promising free cloth facemasks to protect all Belgians from COVID-19, the country's government is having second thoughts — warning they could be dangerous and shouldn't be used.
Belgian authorities said the masks contain miniscule traces of silver and a chemical compound that initial studies now show could affect the respiratory system when inhaled deeply. More studies are continuing.
Health Minister Frank Vandenbroucke told parliament on Thursday that “to be on the safe side while the studies continue, it is better to put (the masks) to the side."
In all, the government ordered 18 million masks. Authorities started handing them out for free last year, but have not yet completed the distribution.
Ever since the virus hit Belgium last spring, the nation of 11.5 million has been beset with problems. For the first half year, it was a minority government with limited powers which had to deal with the pandemic.
The country has one of the highest per capita death rates in the world, and has registered a total 22,000 COVID-19 fatalities.