Tens of millions of face masks that could have been used to combat the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic were destroyed in Belgium starting in 2015. The reason? They needed more room for migrants.
Maggie De Block, who is both Minister of Social Affairs and Health as well as for Asylum and Migration, has acknowledged that face masks were indeed destroyed, but she claimed that this was because they had already passed their expiration date and were no longer in usable condition.
But Marc Caekebeke, an Army adjutant who had been in charge of the stockpile, says that this is only partially true, according to a report by SCEPTR. The main reason they were destroyed was to make more facilities available for incoming migrants.
“That is not correct,” Caekebeke said in response to De Block’s assertion, according to a report by DeMorgen. “The warehouses were dry and closed. The boxes were not affected. The stock was in excellent condition.”
Virologist Marc Van Ranst acknowledged that the expiration date on the masks had passed, but explained that the date “mainly applies to the rubber band. We could indeed no longer have used them in hospitals, but they would have been very useful for the police, among others, today.”
63 million masks were ordered destroyed by the Belgian authorities between 2015 and 2018.
What is perhaps most striking, however, is the reason why the masks were destroyed. Caekebeke claims it was because they needed the warehouses where the masks were being stored to house migrants. According to the SCEPTR report, he explained:
It’s true that they were past their date. I believe the first masks that were destroyed in 2015 had an expiration date in 2010. The last pieces destroyed in 2018 had expired in 2015. But I think the main reason was lack of space. In 2015, the government decided that the Red Cross should use some of the buildings to receive refugees. More room had to be made. I certainly do not want to use this as a stone to throw at the aid organization or anyone else.
Even at the time, some wondered why a better use couldn’t be found for the masks other than simply throwing them away. Caekebeke recalls that a high-ranking physician had commented, “Why don’t we give these masks to Africa? They can always use something like that.”
The struggle over masks and other medical equipment has become a free-for-all as governments around the world scramble to obtain the limited supplies for themselves. Belgium in particular has a severe mask shortage. De Block was ordering masks for migrant centers in February while still telling the public that they weren’t necessary. De Block placed an emergency order for masks from Turkey last month which was paid for but then never delivered, as previously reported by Voice of Europe.