AMSTERDAM (Reuters) - The Dutch government on Wednesday said it will not advise the public to wear masks to slow the spread of coronavirus, asserting that their effectiveness has not been proven.
The decision was announced by Minister for Medical Care Tamara van Ark after a review by the country's National Institute for Health (RIVM). The government will instead seek better adherence to social distancing rules after a surge in coronavirus cases in the country this week, Van Ark said at a press conference in The Hague.
"Because from a medical perspective there is no proven effectiveness of masks, the Cabinet has decided that there will be no national obligation for wearing non-medical masks" Van Ark said.
The decision bucks the trend as many European countries have made masks mandatory in stores or crowded outdoor areas.
RIVM chief Jaap van Dissel said that the organization was aware of studies that show masks help slow the spread of disease but it was not convinced they will help during the current coronavirus outbreak in the Netherlands.
He argued wearing masks incorrectly, together with worse adherence to social distancing rules, could increase the risk of transmitting the disease.
"So we think that if you're going to use masks (in a public setting) ... then you must give good training for it," he said.
Mask are currently required only on public transportation in the Netherlands and in airports.
The decision followed a meeting of health and government officials after new coronavirus cases in the country rose to 1,329 in the past week, an increase of more than a third.
Dutch cases have risen steadily since July 1, when the government announced an easing of lockdown measures to include restaurants and public gatherings if people maintain a 1.5 meter (five foot) physical distance.
(Reporting by Bart Meijer and Toby Sterling; editing by Diane Craft and Jonathan Oatis)