Saturday 24 October 2020

Dutch will decide on face mask strategy as ‘quickly as possible’

Prime minister Mark Rutte on a visit to the rubbish collection service in The Hague earlier on Wednesday. Photo: Bart Maat ANP

The Dutch government will decide in the next few days if the use of face masks can or should be extended beyond the healthcare sector, prime minister Mark Rutte told a short press conference on Wednesday afternoon.

‘I understand the frustration and we will be as quick as we can be in deciding about masks,’ Rutte said. ‘We are looking into the use of face masks on public transport and by hairdressers, but the issue has to be looked at very carefully’

The Netherlands has so far resisted calls for masks to be made compulsory outdoors, arguing that priority must be given to healthcare workers when protective equipment is in short supply.

Health minister Hugo de Jonge told reporters that demand for masks is now beginning to be met. ‘But that is because we are using them according to the recommendations of the public health institute,’ he said. ‘Healthcare must always have priority.’

Asked about media reports that officials have been ignoring leads to buy more masks, De Jonge said that suggestions are always followed up. ‘But sometimes the masks don’t meet the standards, or are being sold for ridiculous prices, or the company does not exist,’ De Jonge said. ‘This is a market that has gone crazy.’

Busy streets

Rutte also referred to the fact that streets have become busier in recent days. And although people appear to be keeping to the 1.5 metre rule in general, there are real risks to going out more, the prime minister said.

‘The figures show things are going in the right direction but hospital admission figures have a lag of two to three weeks, so the admission rates we are seeing now reflect the infection rates of weeks ago,’ he said.

‘We have to continue to stay at home as much as possible,’ he said. ‘Going shopping is not an outing for all the family. Public transport is for people who have to go to work. We have to make sure the transmission rate [the number of people an infected person goes on to infect] remains below one. If it goes above one, then the rate of infection will shoot up.’

Asked about the decision of one hotel group to reopen, including its restaurant ostensibly for guests only, Rutte said the government could not be expected to close every loophole in the rules.

‘We are not running a children’s playground,’ he said, visibly irritated. ‘We are doing this with 17 million people, but yes, it would be anti-social to book a hotel room just so you can eat there.’

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