SCIENTISTS in the Netherlands have said face masks in public places are "not necessary" and might even have a "negative impact".
For while 120 countries across the global, including most of Europe, have ordered citizens to wear face coverings in public places to halt the spread of Covid-19, the Dutch have not.
The nation's top scientists, having examined key data and research, have concluded there is no firm evidence to make people wear masks.
This is despite the fact that, like many other countries in Europe, the Netherlands has seen an alarming spike in coronavirus cases since restrictions were eased.
Over the past week, almost 1,400 new coronavirus cases were reported, or 342 more than the week before.
However the country's top scientists still believe there is no medical evidence to support wearing face masks.
Speaking on Wednesday, after a meeting with health experts and mayors, Dutch Medical Care Minister Tamara van Ark said: "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."
Coen Berends, spokesman for the National Institute for Public Health and the Environment, added: "Face masks in public places are not necessary, based on all the current evidence. There is no benefit and there may even be negative impact."
Holland's position is based on assessments by the Outbreak Management Team, a group of experts advising the government.
It first ruled against masks in May and has re-evaluated the evidence several times, including again last week.
However Dutch residents must still wear face coverings on public transport.
'EVIDENCE IS CONTRADICTORY'
Christian Hoebe, a professor of infectious diseases in Maastricht and member of the advisory team, said: "Face masks should not be seen as a magic bullet that halts the spread.
"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."
It puts the Netherlands at odds with most other countries in the world.
Even US President Donald Trump has since done an about-turn and urged Americans to wear face masks, saying it was "patriotic" to do so (after previously mocking Joe Biden for wearing one).
In the UK, face masks have been compulsory on public transport from June 15 and in shops and supermarkets from July 24.
From August 8 they will also be required in places you come into "contact with people you do not normally meet, such as museums, galleries, cinemas and places of worship".
The science around wearing a face covering has changed during the pandemic.
At the outset, the World Health Organisation said healthy people did not need to wear a mask, unless they were caring for someone who was sick.
Then in April, the WHO said masks could prove useful.
Shortly thereafter, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control issued new recommendations, signalling increased support for masks.
Finally, in June, the WHO said they should be worn in public places where social distancing is not possible to help stop the spread of coronavirus.
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