Dutch advise masks in shops as virus surges

The Dutch government on Monday tightened some of Europe’s most relaxed coronavirus rules after a surge in cases, ordering bars to shut early and recommending people wear masks in shops.

Prime Minister Mark Rutte told a news conference that the situation in the country’s three largest cities, Amsterdam, Rotterdam and The Hague, had become “serious” and required urgent action.

“We’re doing our best, but the virus is doing better,” said coronavirus minister Hugo de Jonge, adding that nearly 3,000 new infections were being recorded a day, with the figure expected to reach 5,000 within weeks.

The Netherlands has so far avoided the harsh measures introduced by its European neighbours, preferring a so-called “intelligent lockdown” and refusing to order the wearing of masks.

But people were now advised to wear masks while shopping in the three big cities, with retailers allowed to refuse entry to those who did not, Rutte said.

However, Rutte said that masks — which are already compulsory on public transport — “won’t do the big trick” and had not worked in France or Spain by themselves.

Restaurants and bars must now close at 10pm (2000 GMT), while people may only have four people to visit over the age of 13, Rutte said.

Sports matches will be played behind closed doors again, including top-tier Eredivisie football, which had only just begun its new season with a limited number of spectators.

Rutte had warned fans recently to “keep their mouths shut” after many had defied a ban on chanting.

Working from home should once again become standard, de Jonge said. (AFP)