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Belgian inmates make 42,000 reusable masks against COVID-19

BRUSSELS (AP) — Inmates in Belgian prisons have so far made 42,000 reusable fabric masks for use by fellow prisoners and penitentiary staff to help address shortages in the country, but are still unable to keep up with demand, an official said Monday.

Kathleen Van De Vijver, the spokeswoman for the prison administration, told The Associated Press the masks have been dispatched in priority to prison staff and inmates involved in jail food-preparation operations.

The masks are being handmade at four different sites and have also been handed out to federal agency personnel and investigative judges, she said. “We have orders until the end of May. We continue to receive large orders, but we can’t keep up." she said. “In the meantime, our goal is also to make sure every inmate has a mask."

Most of the inmates making masks were already working in prison sewing workshops, while another 30 took up sewing after the pandemic broke out, she said Van De Vijver said 13 inmates have tested positive for the virus in Belgian prisons, with 61 prison staff getting infected. Among the staff who tested positive, 28 have been allowed back to work.

Belgium has planned to start a gradual easing of the current lockdown from May 4, when wearing a mask, or a protective scarf, will be mandatory in public transportation for anyone aged over 12. Prime Minister Sophie Wilmes said last week the government is working to provide at least one free fabric mask to every Belgian citizen, but Justice Minister Koen Geens told Flemish television network VTM over the weekend that won't be possible because of Belgium's limited production capacity.

The country of 11.5 million inhabitants has registered 7,207 deaths linked with COVID-19 and a total of 46,687 confirmed infections.

Follow AP coverage of the virus outbreak at https://apnews.com/VirusOutbreak and https://apnews.com/UnderstandingtheOutbreak

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