SINT MAARTEN/THE NETHERLANDS – Face masks are to be made compulsory in busy parts of Amsterdam and Rotterdam from August 5, and people who refuse to comply could be fined, city officials have confirmed.
The move was widely expected following the government’s decision not to bring in a national face mask requirement but to allow officials to bring in local measures. This is despite government advisors saying again that there is insufficient evidence that masks will stop infections.
In Rotterdam, where the number of coronavirus infections has risen more than anywhere in the Netherlands in recent days, masks will be compulsory in three big markets and two shopping centres.
In Amsterdam, where tourists have now returned, masks must be worn in the red-light district and two busy shopping streets, plus two markets.
Rotterdam mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb has been campaigning for the right to make people wear masks since the number of cases of Covid-19 in the city began to rise, and stresses masks are not replacing the 1.5 metre rule.
‘I want to be able to say to myself that I did everything possible to try to avoid one Rotterdammer picking up or dying from coronavirus,’ he told broadcaster NOS. ‘In the main, it will get people to keep their distance… and we think it will increase the sense of urgency.’
Although the official Dutch line is that masks don’t work, there is some evidence that they can reduce the risk of infections – depending on the epidemiological situation in the country, website Nu.nl reported.
According to Norwegian research, for example, between 100,000 and one million people would have to wear a mask to prevent one case of Covid-19.
Shopkeepers say they understand why the Netherlands’ two biggest cities are taking the step but warn that communication is crucial. ‘It must be clear that responsibility for policing the rule is not up to shopkeepers,’ retail organisation Detailhandel Nederland said. ‘We are the service provider.’
Legal experts, however, have raised doubts about the introduction of face masks in some areas, particularly given that the measure is officially aimed at changing people’s behaviour.
Groningen University law professor Jan Brouwer, has said that legally, local majors do not have the right to make masks compulsory in their towns and cities. Legislation allowing special measures to cope with the coronavirus pandemic still has to be approved in parliament, and that legislation specifically refers to the wearing of masks, Brouwer points out.
His colleague Adriaan Wierenga told the AD that he is worried the use of masks may stop people taking other measures seriously and undermine the legitimacy of other measures.
‘You are planning to police measures which the government itself says don’t work,’ he said. ‘How do you plan to do that?’ Meanwhile, Groningen is introducing a 1.30am closure for the city’s cafes and bars on Friday and Saturday nights in an effort to stop overcrowding in popular areas for going out.