Dutch government tightens Covid-19 measures amid surge

Mask wearing reintroduced in shops and other settings as cases soar in Netherlands

The Dutch government has warned that tougher coronavirus restrictions may have to be introduced before the end of the year if the return of masks, which was announced on Tuesday evening, does not curb a surge in the virus that is threatening to inundate hospitals.

The decision, which was announced in a televised press conference by caretaker prime minister Mark Rutte, and health minister Hugo de Jonge, comes following a warning by the heads of the country's eight largest intensive care units that they face being "overwhelmed" by the resurgence.

The return of masks is the most substantial of four measures agreed following a weekend of consultation with the outbreak management team, an independent panel of medical experts chaired by virologist Prof Jaap van Dissel.

While masks have been obligatory on public transport since they were belatedly introduced last December, they will now be required again immediately in shops and other public places, including railway stations and airports, hairdressers, and between classes in schools.


The government held back from reintroducing social distancing, which ended just over a month ago. However, instead of being obligatory, it will now be “urgently advised” as a precautionary measure, with the public encouraged to use their own discretion in busy locations.


Those who can are being asked again to work from home for at least half of each week to avoid busy offices and rush-hour travel. Research had shown, said Mr Rutte, that some 12 per cent of new coronavirus cases could be traced back to the workplace.

In addition, the test-to-enter CoronaCheck QR code, which was introduced on September 25th when social distancing was abolished, is to be required in a wider range of locations, such as outdoor terraces, gyms, museums, and some amateur sports events.

However, its introduction will not be sanctioned for use by employers in workplaces unless the new measures fail to have an immediate impact.

The measures were triggered when the coronavirus risk level was raised to severe, signalling that the average number of hospital admissions a day was above 100.

“Our own behaviour as individuals is crucial,” the prime minister said. “A very large part of our coronavirus policy depends on it.”

Mr De Jonge pointed out that the public health institute, RIVM, was forecasting a doubling of the number of patients in intensive care by mid-December, and everything possible had to be done to check that increase – which was causing backlogs in other specialities.

RIVM figures show that four out of five patients currently in intensive care suffering from Covid-19 are unvaccinated.

This led Mr De Jonge to observe pointedly: “Most coronavirus patients are not vaccinated and perhaps would not be in hospital if they had been. Meanwhile, someone else is waiting for a hip.”

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey

Peter Cluskey is a journalist and broadcaster based in The Hague, where he covers Dutch news and politics plus the work of organisations such as the International Criminal Court