Dutch stand firm: no nationwide requirement to wear face masks

Minister Tamara van Ark during the press conference . Photo: ANP Jeroen Jumelet
Minister Tamara van Ark during the press conference . Photo: ANP Jeroen Jumelet

The Netherlands has no plans to make non-medical face masks compulsory because there is no scientific evidence to prove they work, government officials said on Wednesday.

Masks are compulsory in shops and indoors in many parts of Europe, but in the Netherlands they are only required on public transport.

‘The 1.5 metre rule is the most important measure we have,’ healthcare minister Tamara van Ark told reporters. ‘From a medical point of view, there is no reason to introduce a national requirement to wear masks. But mayors want local leeway to influence behaviour, and that is what we are now looking at.’

MPs had asked the cabinet’s coronavirus Outbreak Management Team to look again at the evidence for using face masks, amid mounting calls for them to be introduced in public places.

The decision to allow local regulations means the 25 local public safety boards will be able to experiment with masks, if they feel their use is necessary.

Rotterdam and Amsterdam, where the infection rate is rising fastest, are likely to take this step, Dutch media said. However, the legal contours of regional laws still have to be worked out.

Publicity campaigns and approaches to specific groups, such as returning holidaymakers and students, will also be part of efforts to halt the rise in Covid-19 infections.

Jaap van Dissel, chief epidemiologist with the public health institute RIVM told reporters that he did not think face masks would stop the rise in infection clusters. ‘Most new infections stem from family events, student parties and barbecues – places where face masks would not have an effect,’ he said.

So far, the OMT has only recommended the use of masks in places where 1.5 metres social distance cannot be maintained, such as in public transport.

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