The dreaded second wave of coronavirus is not yet over. In order to reduce the number of new infections, in the autumn the Cabinet ‘urgently advised’ people to wear a face mask in all publicly accessible indoor areas. Many universities of applied sciences and universities have already adopted this advice.
But from today, that advice is a legal requirement: in shops, museums and railway stations, for example, but also in higher education buildings. Face masks must now be worn whenever people are “moving through the building”, the national government states on its website, but may be taken off during classes “once everybody has reached their seat or place”. Students and teaching staff members who fail to cover their nose and mouth between classes could be fined 95 euros.
But the question is: who is going to give out those fines? After all, porters, security staff or ‘coronavirus campus coaches’ do not have the authority to do this. Will we soon be seeing municipal enforcement officers patrolling university buildings?
Spokesperson Jos Steehouder of the Netherlands Association of Universities of Applied Sciences thinks this is unlikely. “From a formal point of view, responsibility for enforcing these measures lies with the mayors”, he explains. “But I think it’s unlikely that they would send their enforcement officers to patrol university campuses.”
Universities of applied sciences are therefore appealing to their students and staff to act responsibly. “Ultimately, we all know what is and isn’t allowed”, says Steehouder. “You can’t smoke inside our buildings either, but nobody asks ‘how are you going to enforce that?’ People are already respecting social distancing guidelines on campus and keeping 1.5 metres apart. We think that they will take the same responsible approach to wearing a face mask.”
According to Femke van Zijst, spokesperson for the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, people are unlikely to get fined on campus. “Most universities are already enforcing the rules with stewards, professional security guards or special coronavirus officers”, she says. Anyone who absolutely refuses to wear a face mask can be reprimanded by the dean. They may be denied access to the building.
The nationwide face mask mandate applies to everyone aged 13 and older. Working out at the gym, singing, theatre, dance and certain forms of practical education are excluded, according to the Dutch government. People who cannot wear or put on a mouth mask due to a disability or illness are also exempt.