AMSTERDAM (Reuters) – A law mandating the use of face masks to slow the spread of coronavirus went into effect in the Netherlands on Tuesday, completing a gradual turnabout in policy.
With the country in a “partial lockdown” since Oct. 13, health authorities are expected to release weekly figures later on Tuesday that will show new COVID-19 infections are about flat from the 36,931 cases reported for the week ended Nov. 24.
A requirement that masks be worn in public buildings, including schools, supermarkets and restaurants, will be imposed for an initial three months. Violators can be fined up to 95 euros ($114).
From March through September, the government did not recommend pubic use of cloth masks other than on public transportation, following advice from the National Institute for Health (RIVM).
The World Health Organization began recommending their use in public places when maintaining social distance is impossible from June. But RIVM head Jaap van Dissel there was no compelling scientific evidence for their effectiveness and theorized that using them might lead people to disregard the more important social-distancing rules.
However, on Sept. 30 the government changed tack and decided to “strongly advise” the use of masks in crowded public places.
The measure required parliament to adopt a special law to overcome constitutional guarantees on personal freedoms.
($1 = 0.8348 euros)
(Reporting by Toby Sterling, editing by Larry King)