Dutch reintroduce face masks as COVID-19 cases surge

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The Dutch government on Tuesday decided to re-impose measures, including the wearing of face masks, aimed at slowing the latest spike in COVID-19 infections, Prime Minister Mark Rutte said.

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The use of a “corona pass,” showing proof of a COVID-19 vaccination or recent negative coronavirus test, would be broadened as of Nov. 6 to public places including museums, gyms and outdoor terraces, Rutte said.

Coronavirus infections in the Netherlands have been rising for a month after most social distancing measures were scrapped in late September, and reached their highest level since July in the past week.

This has forced many hospitals to cut back on regular care again, to make room for urgent COVID-19 cases.

In a televised news conference, Rutte called on all Dutch, vaccinated and unvaccinated, to stick to basic hygiene rules and to stay at home if they had symptoms of a possible infection.

“Our own behavior is crucial, a very large part of our coronavirus policy depends on it,” the prime minister said.

Face masks will be reintroduced in stores and other public places, while people are advised to work at home for at least half of the time.

The government next week could decide to broaden the use of the corona pass to the workplace, Rutte said.

Dutch health authorities on Tuesday recommended COVID-19 vaccine booster shots for older adults. Around 84 percent of the Dutch adult population has been vaccinated.

As of Tuesday, new infections were up nearly 40 percent week-on-week to more than 300 infections per 100,000 people, approaching peaks previously seen in July 2021, and in December and October 2020.

The strain on hospitals is an immediate concern, as the country’s National Institute for Health said on Tuesday admissions are up 31 percent in the past week, with unvaccinated patients accounting for most hospitalisations.

Among people testing positive in the past month, about 52 percent say they were unvaccinated, while 45 percent say they were fully vaccinated, according to RIVM data.

Earlier on Tuesday the country’s Health Council recommended that fully vaccinated adults aged 60 and older should begin receiving a booster shot.

Rutte’s government routinely adopts the council’s recommendations.

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