Sunday 29 November 2020

Dutch have no plans to recommend face masks, health minister says

Prime minister Mark Rutte and health minister Hugo de Jonge at Wednesday’s press conference. Photo Bart Maat ANP

The Netherlands is following the advice of its experts in not going down the same road as Germany and Belgium and recommending the use of face masks in the street, health minister Hugo de Jonge told a press conference on Wednesday evening.

‘We follow the advice of our experts and they have not recommended this,’ De Jonge said in answer to reporters’ questions.

‘At a time of scarcity, this would not be sensible. There is a shortage of personal protection equipment in the Netherlands and our experts say they are most needed in healthcare.’

With Germany and Belgium both preparing to relax some of their social distancing rules, pressure is mounting on the Netherlands to make a similar move.

Wednesday’s press conference with prime minister Mark Rutte and De Jonge comes a week in advance of the key meeting to decide if some of the ‘intelligent lockdown’ measures in the Netherlands can be relaxed after the April 28 deadline.

Relaxation

Both Rutte and De Jonge were careful not to raise too many hopes. ‘The door will not open immediately,’ Rutte said. ‘We have to prepare for the new normal of the 1.5 metre society. It is about the division of scarce space… the impact on public transport and the risk of bumping into each other.’

Relaxing the lockdown, the prime minister said, gave rise to numerous ‘devils’ dilemmas’ and a lot is being done behind the scenes to make it possible to move into the next phase.

Three key issues have to be considered before the lockdown can be relaxed, the prime minister said. These include pressure on the care services, including regular care; the protection of the elderly and vulnerable people, and insight into the virus and how it spreads via testing, tracing and reporting.

‘The speed of the spread has gone down and that is a good development,’ Rutte said. ‘But the pressure on healthcare is still enormous… We hope that we will be able to relax some aspects but if we can, it will be really limited.’

App

Health minister De Jonge, who first raised the issue of a tracking app a week ago, said that 750 proposals were submitted ahead of Tuesday’s deadline.

All will now be assessed by experts for privacy, security and applications and a shortlist will be published next weekend so everyone can give their input, he said.

‘I hope to be able to say more about the progress next week,’ De Jonge said.

The Netherlands’ intelligent lockdown is due to run until April 28 and all organised events have been banned up to June 1. The government has pledged to announce whether these deadlines will be extended by April 21, in full consultation with the committee of experts.

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