Face masks mandatory in parts of Amsterdam, Rotterdam from Aug. 5

Women wearing respirator masks at Amsterdam's Muntplein. March 2020
Women wearing respirator masks at Amsterdam's Muntplein. March 2020jaalbersDepositPhotosDeposit Photos

Visitors to several public areas of Amsterdam and Rotterdam will be required to wear non-medical face masks beginning on August 5, according to the Amsterdam-Amstelland and Rotterdam-Rijnmond Security Regions. The decision had become increasingly likely after the Cabinet agreed to allow the 25 Security Regions in the country to use local face mask obligations in coordination with city mayors as a way of reducing the spread of the SARS-CoV-2 novel coronavirus.

In Amsterdam, everyone aged 13 and older will be required to wear a mask in De Wallen, the part of the city that includes the Red Light District, as well as the Kalverstraat and Nieuwendijk shopping streets in the center. Those on Plein '40 - '45 and Albert Cuypstraat will also be obligated to wear the masks.

"These are areas where it is tight and busy, and where other measures have had insufficient effect or have lead to undesired economic effects," the Security Region said in a statement. It said it had permission from the Cabinet to implement local rules to limit crowding caused by tourism, day-trippers, and young people. "These are situations where the current rules and measures are under pressure."

The same was said for the central shopping districts in Rotterdam, including Coolsingel, Lijnbaan, Meent and Nieuwe Binnenwegplein. Also included were the covered shopping centers Alexandrium and Zuidplein, and the markets at Afrikaanderplein, De Binnenrotte, and Visserijplein. The officials were undecided about the covered shopping centers De Binnenhof and Keizerswaard.

The rule in both cities will be compulsory for everyone on the streets and in the shops in those areas, but not businesses where there are already national guidelines for handling social distancing issues, like gyms, restaurants, bars, and museums. People will still be required to maintain a physical distance of 1.5 meters from one another in addition to wearing the masks. "Entrepreneurs also have a responsibility to comply with these rules," the Amsterdam-Amstelland Security Region said.

Those violating the rule in Rotterdam could be subject to afine, but the amount was unspecified. In that city's streets and shopping centers, the rule is valid from 6 a.m. through 10 p.m. every day. It only applies to the specified open-air market locations on days those markets are open.

Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema, who also chairs the Amsterdam-Amstelland Security Region, said back in May that she favored the possibility of imposing new restrictions if she deemed it necessary. In the past eight days that conversation increasingly turned to face masks with Rotterdam Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb speaking out emphatically in support of a mask directive. While the national government said there would not be a countrywide mandate to wear the masks, it did agree that local experiments could be utilized to influence behavior after three straight weeks where the amount of coronavirus infections increased.

Aboutaleb is also the chair of the Rotterdam-Rijnmond Security Region. In a statement issued Thursday, he said he believed face masks can increase the sense of importance with regard to the public health crisis, while encouraging people to cooperate with enforcement, practice good hygiene, and maintain "the golden rule of 1.5 meters."

Both cities said they would quickly begin informing residents, business owners, and visitors of the upcoming rule changes. Rotterdam will distribute free masks to the public in those areas on the day the policy enters into force. Amsterdam said it would also hand out free masks, but did not specify when.

The Amsterdam-Amstelland Security Region also noted that public health agency RIVM "recently concluded that wearing a mouth mask can lead to people becoming more careful and keeping more distance from each other. The Security Region will closely monitor whether these desired effects actually occur." Their counterparts in Zuid-Holland made a similar assertion in a statement.

"We are ready to start the pilot and hope it will help people to stay safe in the city and keep enough distance from each other," Aboutaleb said.