Amsterdam, Rotterdam order use of masks in busy streets

AMSTERDAM (AP) — The Netherlands’ two most populous cities began ordering people to wear face masks in busy streets yesterday amid rising coronavirus infection rates, but many people in the Dutch capital’s famous De Wallen district still did not wear them.

Police in Rotterdam said a number of people opposed to the mask order staged a protest in the downtown area where masks became obligatory.

Amsterdam ordered masks to be worn in the De Wallen District and busy shopping streets and markets. Many visitors to the narrow lanes and canal-side roads of the historic neighbourhood ignored the instructions, despite signs informing people of the new measure.

Municipality workers stood at the entrance to one downtown Amsterdam shopping street wearing signs saying in Dutch and English that masks were required and handing them out to people who didn’t have one.

The Dutch capital’s local health authority said around five per cent of people who got a test over the last week were positive, more than double the two per cent from the previous week.

Among clusters being tracked in the city was one at a recreational club in the De Wallen District where at least one customer and 10 staff have tested positive, according to a statement from the health authority. The owner voluntarily closed the club.

Amsterdam Mayor Femke Halsema said she understood people’s wish to socialise again at home, at weddings or in eateries after weeks of tough restrictions aimed at reining in the spread of the coronavirus.

“But the numbers show that the coronavirus is spreading at these kinds of locations,” she said. “It is striking that young people in particular are now becoming infected and therefore pose a risk to the entire city and region.”

Face masks are offered to people in Amsterdam. PHOTO: AP