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Scientists in Holland have determined that there is “no evidence” that wearing protective face masks in public is effective in preventing the spread of the coronavirus.
In fact, some of the nation’s top scientific experts believe they can have a “negative impact” instead, despite the decision by 120 other countries to make wearing them mandatory in public spaces. While the debate in the United States rages about whether masks should be compulsory, as President Trump himself has recently taken to recommending their use, many nations in Europe have long been mandating their use even as the Dutch continue to resist, the Daily Mail reported.
“Face masks in public places are not necessary, based on all the current evidence,” Coen Berends, spokesman for the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, said. “There is no benefit and there may even be negative impact.”
“From a medical point of view, there is no evidence of a medical effect of wearing face masks, so we decided not to impose a national obligation,” Dutch Medical Care Minister Tamara van Ark said.
The continued decision not to require residents to wear masks comes even as the nation has seen a recent spike in the virus, with the number of coronavirus cases reported in the last two weeks almost doubling to 1,329.
The Outbreak Management Team, the expert group that advises the government in Holland, again re-evaluated the evidence last week after having done so several times and recommended back in May against requiring masks, though residents must use them when on public transportation.
A member of the advisory team concluded that the evidence on the effectiveness of the face coverings is “contradictory” and warned against looking to one step as being a “magic bullet” in the efforts to combat COVID-19.
“Face masks should not be seen as a magic bullet that halts the spread,” Christian Hoebe, a professor of infectious diseases in Maastricht, said. “The evidence for them is contradictory. In general, we think you must be careful with face masks because they can give a false sense of security. People think they’re immune from disease or stop social distancing. That is very negative.”
Hoebe added that the messaging in the Netherlands has been effective in the pandemic battle, advising residents to stay at home if experiencing any symptoms, wash hands regularly and maintain safe social distancing.
“We have seen this approach works,” Hoebe told the Daily Mail.
“I was in Belgium recently and saw many people putting them beneath their noses, upside down or under chins,” Hoebe recounted. “Others stuffed them in their pockets. The effectiveness also depends on the right fabric and the mask being worn very close to the nose.”
Holland’s government initially executed what it called an “intelligent lockdown” to combat the spread of the pandemic which claimed the lives of over 6,000 people within its borders. And the recent spike in cases was blamed on family groups gathering for parties, according to the cabinet’s advisory team. Another 39 cases were traced to a bar in Hillegom, near Amsterdam where patrons were allowed to sit close together and not worry about face masks.
The departure of the Dutch from the rest of their European neighbors comes even as the World Health Organization has done a sort of dance around the issue. Back in April, the WHO announced that it was useful to wear face masks as a protective measure against COVID-19 after determining at the beginning of the pandemic that healthy people did not need to wear a mask.
New recommendations were issued by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control at the time and then the WHO announced in June that masks should be worn in public places where it was not plausible for social distance to be maintained.
In nearby England, residents have been required to wear masks on public transportation and, at the end of July, were required to do so while visiting shops and supermarkets as well. In Australia, a new more stringent lockdown was announced in the city of Melbourne which is under new orders for the next six weeks.
The lockdown, which started Sunday and runs until Sept. 13, has included the mandatory wearing of masks, banning of recreational activity, a curfew from 8 p.m. until 5 a.m. and a requirement that residents stay close to home, with only one person from a household allowed to shop each day.
According to the Guardian:
People must wear a mask or covering whenever leaving the house. There are a few exceptions. People with a medical reason are exempt, as are children younger than 12. Those who have a professional reason are also exempt and “if it’s just not practical, like when running”, but those people will still be expected to carry a face covering at all times “to wear when you can”.
Teachers and students will be required to wear a mask on the way to and from school and students must keep them on while attending classes. Anyone caught breaking the new rules will reportedly face a $200 fine.
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