Dutch gov't will have to give in to mandatory masks, Belgian virologist warns as NL tightens travel advice for Antwerp

The Dutch government will eventually have to make face masks mandatory in crowded places if they want to avoid a complete lockdown, Belgian virologist Marc van Ranst said in an interview with Het Parool as the number of Covid-19 infections was rising again in both Belgium and the Netherlands. On Wednesday the Dutch Ministry of Foreign Affairs implemented a code orange travel advice for Antwerp, discouraging all but absolutely necessary trips to the region.

Belgium implemented the face mask obligation on Saturday. It is now mandatory to wear a mask in shops and busy public areas. "As in Belgium, the corona curve in the Netherlands has been increasing since July 10. If the number of infections continues to rise, you will not be able to avoid a face mask obligation. The other measures are exhausted. Unless you want a complete lockdown, but of course nobody wants that," Van Ranst said. He is a professor of virology at KU Leuven and an important advisor for the Belgian health authorities. 

Van Ranst disagrees with Dutch public health institute RIVM and the Outbreak Management Team's stance that masks add nothing to the most important coronavirus prevention measure - social distancing. "A mask does not protect the person who wears it, but others," he said to the Amsterdam newspaper. "It reduces the number of droplets that enter the air, and thus the formation of the number of aerosols containing virus particles. Particularly indoors, in places where ventilation is not optimal, when people cough or speak loudly, virus particles are released in this way. Do face masks offer 100 percent protection against this? No. Face masks do not eliminate the risks, but they do reduce them." 

"Don't forget that the discussion about face masks started at a time when they were barely available and there was a lockdown; there were hardly any people on the street," Van Ranst added. "But now the situation is different. Face masks are widely available. In Belgium, supermarkets distribute them at cost, the profit goes to charity. A pattern has been published, approve by me, that has been used by millions of people to make their own face masks."

The Outbreak Management Team will officially publish its advice on wearing masks in public. Sources already leaked that the team will advice against mandatory masks. 

On Wednesday, the Ministry of Foreign Affairs escalated the travel advice for the province of Antwerp from code yellow to code orange, which means that Netherlands residents should only go there if absolutely necessary. The local government also implemented extra measures against the virus, including a curfew that's in effect between 11:30 p.m. and 6:00 a.m.