Dutch publish mask recommendations, as infections continue to rise

Photo: DutchNews.nl
Photo: DutchNews.nl

The Dutch government has now published its formal recommendations for wearing face masks, even though public health advisors continue to doubt their effectiveness.

The recommendations apply nationwide, to everyone aged 13 or over, and cover the wearing of non-medical masks in indoor public spaces.

They apply to shops, museums, town halls, stations, airports, covered car parks, and petrol stations, the health minister said in an update. Masks are also advised in restaurants, cafes, theatres, bars and concert halls unless people are seated.

In addition, both customers and staff should wear masks in locations where contact-based professions are carried out, such as at the hairdressers and in nail studios.

The education ministry has also decided to recommend masks are worn in all types of secondary schools outside lessons but not at colleges and universities, where social distancing is easier.

However, it is up to schools themselves to decide whether or not to make masks a requirement, the ministers said.

The new rules were published on Friday evening. ‘Wearing a mask is not mandatory, but it is strongly advised,’ the government said in the statement.

The ministry has also published guidelines for how to wear a mask, including a warning not to put the same mask on and off repeatedly. ‘Repeatedly touching the face mask to put it on and take it off increases the risk of infection,’ the guidelines said.

It is up to companies themselves whether or not to refuse entry to people who do not wear a mask but police or street wardens can be called in to help if customers refuse to comply with a mask requirement.

The Rijksmuseum in Amsterdam, for example, has made masks compulsory but supermarkets have said it is up to customers to decide whether or not to wear them.

Limited impact

Meanwhile, Jaap van Dissel, infectious diseases chief at the public health institute RIVM, told broadcaster NOS in an interview that the impact of face masks on the rise in coronavirus infections will be limited.

‘We… judge the added value of face masks, given staying at home if you have symptoms and the 1.5 metre rule, to be extremely limited,’ he said. ‘That means we have not made a positive recommendation about their use. Another decision, based on political considerations, has been taken.’

‘We realise some people would rather wear a mask and that is fine if they feel safer,’ Van Dissel said. ‘And there can be situations in shops where it is not always possible to have a door policy or that the shop size is that you break the 1.5 metre rule when you go in.’

Unmasking the Dutch face mask dilemma

Asked about comments made by US advisor Anthony Fauci, who criticised the RIVM last week, Van Dissel said: ‘He says it right – you should seriously consider it. And what Fauci realises very well is that much depends on context and local culture.’

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