Shopkeepers yearn for clarity about masks


At the branch of department store De Bijenkorf in Rotterdam, two young employees, neatly in suits, hand out mouth masks at the entrances on Tuesday. ‘Welcome to De Bijenkorf’, a large billboard reads next to them. The department store announced on Tuesday that it would require visitors to wear a mouth mask in Amsterdam, The Hague, Eindhoven and Rotterdam. But that turned out to be one of the few retail chains.

For example, on Tuesday morning, HEMA was one of the first to report that mouth masks were not mandatory in the major cities. Only the employees of the retail chain will wear them from now on. On behalf of CBL advocate, the supermarkets soon followed: they too would advise shoppers to wear a mouth mask, but not to force it. Because that “is expected to lead to a lot of extra discussion and even aggression at the door”, according to the CBL. Eventually more and more retail chains were added. They all endorse the government’s advice to wear masks in shops, they said, but they would prefer to leave the choice with the customer.

Urgent advice, not an obligation

So the discussion about whether or not to wear mouth masks flares up again. During the press conference of Prime Minister Mark Rutte (VVD) and Minister Hugo de Jonge (Public Health, CDA) about new national corona measures, there was no national obligation. But this time there was an advice for the cities with the most corona infections. However, it did not become concrete.

The cabinet advises shoppers in a number of large cities to wear face masks, but does not enforce this. At the same time, retailers may refuse customers who do not wear a mask, the prime minister said.

The security regions of Amsterdam-Amstelland, Rotterdam-Rijnmond, Haaglanden and Brabant-Zuidoost went even one step further: residents were given the ‘urgent advice’ to wear a face mask in public indoor spaces, shopkeepers were ‘asked’ to include this in their door policy. But there is no question of coercion in this either.

The advice follows months of haggling. While mouth masks are compulsory almost everywhere in Europe, in the Netherlands that obligation never went further than in public transport. Now a small twist follows, but it is not really happy yet. Prime Minister Rutte called the advice on Monday a “limited addition to the entire package”. The number of infections in the big cities “is now so serious,” he said, “that we must try everything.” But „it won’t do the big trick”. The Outbreak Management Team has again been asked for advice.

Mayors and many shopkeepers crave clarity. Mayor Femke Halsema of Amsterdam said on Monday evening that she would very much like to see wearing a mouth mask in indoor areas as a matter of course, but that a regional obligation to wear it is legally complicated. Mayor Ahmed Aboutaleb of Rotterdam also appealed to shopkeepers to only allow people with a mouth mask to enter. He said he was pleased with this ‘move’ of the cabinet.

The Eindhoven mayor John Jorritsma also spoke out last week in favor of a national obligation. In line with the cabinet, the municipality has “assumed the responsibility of the shops” for the mouth masks advice, his spokesman says. Now that stores are not taking that responsibility, “the ball is even more in the hands of the cabinet,” he says. According to him, it will not be the fault of most Dutch people: “We also wore the mouth caps abroad this summer.”

Also read: The vulnerable areas of the new package of measures

‘Create clarity’

Now that a mouth mask is not compulsory nationally, shopkeepers are afraid of discussions at the door. Because if shops themselves determine what their policy is, they will also have to account for that policy to customers. “One shopkeeper will enforce it strictly, the other not. Customers then no longer understand anything about it, ”says Jan Meerman, director of the INRetail trade association AD. A duty would work a lot better, he said. “Then you have clarity.”

Ikea Netherlands, which advises staff and customers to wear a mouth mask, says it has no obligation to maintain “as long as there is no obligation from the government”.

In De Bijenkorf in Rotterdam, ‘safety coordinators’ now see to the door that everyone wears a face mask. “Some people turn and leave,” says one of them. But there were no discussions or angry refusers today.

Although a group of young girls, standing a few meters away near the Marc Jacobs bags, have already pulled their mouth caps under the chin. That talks easier.

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