Face masks could be mandatory if Covid patients “increases significantly”

The government could reconsider its decision not to make face masks mandatory in public spaces if the number of coronavirus patients "increases significantly", Minister Hugo de Jonge of Public Health  said in a letter to parliament on Thursday.

Earlier this week, the Outbreak Management Team (OMT) advised against introducing a nationwide obligation to wear face masks in public spaces, saying it has not been scientifically proven to be an effective measure against the spread of the coronavirus. 

Before the OMT will revisit the use of face masks, it is important to first investigate which non-medial masks are most effective in blocking droplets and aerosols, the Health Minister said. De Jonge and Minister Tamara van Ark for Medical Care will now look into how such a study can be set up. There should also be training and information on"every use of face masks" De Jonge said. The OMT worries that wearing masks will make people less vigilant in maintaining social distancing, and that people will become infected when the put on and take off masks to eat or drink. 

Regions and municipalities are allowed to implement face mask obligations themselves if they deem it necessary. Amsterdam and Rotterdam already suggested that they are considering such measures. According to De Jonge, such experiments are needed "with new measures aimed at behavioral change".

Mayors Paul Depla of Breda and Theo Weterings of Tilburg are pleased that the government gave mayors the possibility of experimenting with local measures, they said to Omroep Brabant. West Brabant is one of the areas that saw a spike in infections over the past weeks, recording 57 positive tests in Breda in one week. The region is also close to the Belgian border, where Antwerp has been seeing a spike in infections.

The two mayors are therefore eager to be able to take measures customized to protect their residents, but can't yet say what these measures will be or whether a mask obligation will form part of them. They will first get advice from experts. "Quick answers to the virus are not well thought out, that is easy to score and of little use to people. We are going to be inspired by what experts tell us: what exactly is going on and what helps against it?" Depla said to the broadcaster.