July 28, 2020 / 5:16 PM / 16 days ago

Belgians adapt to compulsory face masks along North Sea coast

A tourist wearing a protective face mask walks along the beach as Belgian coastal towns impose masks on dykes amid the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Ostend, Belgium July 28, 2020. REUTERS/Francois Lenoir

OSTEND, Belgium (Reuters) - There could be no one around but the wind and the sea, but wherever you go along Belgium’s coast this summer you had better wear a mask.

Instead of trying to enforce a rule with countless exceptions, local authorities in northern Belgium have decided to make masks mandatory outdoors at all times from July 25.

Even on windy boardwalks and deserted coastal causeways, when sitting down in the sun or cycling along harbour paths. You can take it off only when eating or swimming. Otherwise, there’s a fine.

“It’s not very pleasant after all,” said Belgian tourist Nancy van Impe in the port city of Ostend. “We were just cycling without a face mask and then we thought: Oh, do we have to put it on when we cycle?”

Belgium was hit hard in Europe’s initial coronavirus wave, still holding the record for the most deaths per capita from COVID-19 in the world apart from the tiny northern Italian city state of San Marino. It has since largely curbed transmission through a lockdown that has slowly been lifted in recent months.

But a surge of infections in the past three weeks has raised concern of a second wave. Some tourists said they accepted that drastic measures needed to be taken.

“It’s a bit weird, but now we’re moving to a situation where we already think it’s weird that someone doesn’t wear one,” said tourist Martine Vermeiren.

Belgian restaurants, bars and cafes are required to gather the names and contact information of those at every table they serve to make it easier to track customers infected with COVID-19.

“It’s a good measure. It involves more work for us, but we do it with pleasure to fight the disease,” Ostend restaurant owner Lorenzo de Jonghe told Reuters.

Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Peter Graff

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