Who will fine people for not wearing a face mask on campus?

Photo: DUB

The dreaded second wave of the coronavirus isn’t yet over, which is why the cabinet went from ‘urgently advising’ citizens to wear a face mask in publicly accessible indoor areas to legally requiring them to do so. Since yesterday, face masks must be worn in shops, museums, railway stations and, of course, higher education buildings.

According to the government’s website, masks are mandatory when people are “moving around” inside the building, but can be taken off during classes “once everybody has taken their seats.” Students and teaching staff members who fail to cover their nose and mouth in between classes risk receiving a 95 euro-fine.

But who is going to give out those fines? Porters, security staff, and ‘coronavirus campus coaches’ do not have the authority to do that. Will we soon be seeing municipal enforcement officers patrolling university buildings?

That’s very unlikely, according to Jos Steehouder, spokesperson for the Dutch Association of Universities of Applied Sciences. “From a formal point of the view, it’s the mayor’s responsibility to enforce these measures,” he explains. “But I think it’s unlikely that they will 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. 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 away from each other. We believe they will take the same responsible approach when it comes to wearing a face mask.”

Femke van Zijst, spokesperson for the Association of Universities in the Netherlands, agrees that it is unlikely that fines will be distributed on campus. “Most universities are already enforcing the rules with stewards, professional security guards or special coronavirus officers”, she says. If someone absolutely refuses to wear a face mask, they may be denied access to the building and receive a reprimand from the dean.

The nationwide face mask mandate applies to everyone aged 13 and older. Activities such as working out at the gym, singing, dancing, or performing a theatre play are excluded, as well as certain forms of practical education. People who cannot wear or put on a mask due to a disability or illness are also exempt.

Back in April, Associate Professor Andrei Petoukhov was already pleading for widespread facemask use, but people were sceptical about their efficacy back then.