Holland becomes Europe's covid hotspot after refusing face mask masks

Holland becomes one of the world’s covid hot-spots after refusing to bring in face mask rules and its testing system dismally failed to meet demands

  • Per capita infection rate in Holland is among the top ten countries in the world 
  • Spike in cases has caught the country’s testing system on its heels 
  • Today parliament debated whether to mandate masks in public places 
  • Prime Minister Mark Rutte has said a country requiring such a rule is ‘childish’

Holland has become one of the world’s coronavirus hotspots after refusing to bring in face mask rules and its testing system dismally failed to meet demands.

In the last month, a surge in new cases has catapulted the per capita infection rate into the top 10 in the world, with a weekly infection rate of around 160 per 100,000 people.

On Wednesday, the Dutch parliament was debating an emergency law that would give government the power to make masks mandatory in public places if it chose to, as the daily rate of new infections reached a new record high of nearly 5,000. 

Prime Minister Mark Rutte has repeatedly said he has no intention of forcing people to wear a mask – which the World Health Organization calls one of the key tools to stop the virus – while his top medical official has publicly repeated his assertion that their usefulness is unproven.

People wear face masks as they walk through a shopping centre in Rotterdam last week

In the last month, a surge in new cases has catapulted Holland’s per capita infection rate into the top 10 in the world, with a weekly infection rate of around 160 per 100,000 population

Coronavirus cases in the Netherlands – the country has experienced a second wave, although it is impossible to compare it to the first wave in spring because testing capacity is so much higher

With most of Europe at peak infection levels, it is important to note that testing in the first wave has been dwarfed by that taking place in this ‘second wave’ of the pandemic. 

After the first wave of infections waned in May, the Netherlands worked to boost testing capacity, promising they would be available to all. 

The strategy was to find hot-spots fast, and isolate people quickly to stop contagion.

Laboratories said they had increased capacity by two-thirds to 51,000 tests per day.

But last month, tests were again limited to people with serious health issues, and Rutte acknowledged capacity was far below demand.

‘We don’t have our basic infrastructure in order’, public health professor Jochen Mierau told Reuters.

‘There is a shortage of tests, while Germany has more than enough to even test people without symptoms.’

The Netherlands’ much bigger neighbour has also experienced a surge in infections, but has so far kept the weekly rise to around 20 per 100,000.

But Germany not only has a bigger testing capacity.

Dutch Prime Minister Mark Rutte arrives on the second day of a European Union leaders summit in Brussels last week

Face masks have been mandatory in German shops since the summer, whereas the Dutch government only decided only last week to advise their use in indoor public spaces.

Despite a national poll in which two-thirds said their government should get tougher, Rutte, facing an election in March, responded to a question about masks on television on Tuesday by saying: ‘Why would we need to force people? … What kind of childish nation would that make us? We’ll look at it if we have to, but I’d regret it.’

He held out hope that the new guidance on masks and earlier closing hours for bars would prove their value.

‘The numbers don’t look good,’ he said, ‘but we can’t see the effects of the new measures until at least this weekend.’ 

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