We need your help now

Support from readers like you keeps The Journal open.

You are visiting us because we have something you value. Independent, unbiased news that tells the truth. Advertising revenue goes some way to support our mission, but this year it has not been enough.

If you've seen value in our reporting, please contribute what you can, so we can continue to produce accurate and meaningful journalism. For everyone who needs it.

Leah Farrell/

CMO doesn't advise for mandatory mask-wearing, as Tánaiste says public health emergency is over

Hospitals have been under serious pressure in the latest surge – with the worst March overcrowding for at least 16 years.

LAST UPDATE | 31 Mar 2022

THE OUTGOING CHIEF Medical Officer has not advised the Government to introduce mandatory mask rules for certain settings, amid pressure on hospitals caused by the current Covid-19 wave. 

Dr Tony Holohan, who is to take up a position at Trinity College Dublin at the start of July, recommended to the Cabinet health sub-committee that there be no change to mandatory mask wearing in certain settings, and that the seven-day isolation period for people who test positive for Covid-19 could be shortened following a review.

The vaccination advisory group NIAC is to come back next week with recommendations on whether a fourth dose of the Covid vaccine is needed, and who might need it.

Tánaiste Leo Varadkar confirmed that no new advice on mandatory mask wearing had been issued, in an interview on RTÉ Prime Time tonight. 

“We’re very much guided by the public health advice, and in the current context, it’s no longer appropriate to say to people that if you don’t wear a mask, we’re going to prosecute you,” he said.

He added that most people catch Covid-19 at home, adding that “people are not going to wear their masks in a household setting”. 

He said in other settings where Covid spreads, such as pubs, restaurants and nightclubs, people will also not wear a mask as they will need to eat and drink.

He said a more effective measure to reduce the pressure on hospitals would be to ensure more people get the Covid-19 booster dose. 

The Tánaiste said that 700,000 people are eligible for a booster and haven’t got it yet. 

“You need to get it,” he said, adding that it would protect you and other people from Covid-19, as well as possibly being necessary for travel to other EU countries. 

He also said that the CMO had indicated that we had “come close to or even past” the peak of the current Omicron wave – with the five-day incidence falling, positivity falling, no increase in deaths, and the numbers of people in hospital with Covid-19 stabilising.

“So to sum it up, the pandemic is not over, but the public health emergency is.”

Varadkar said that unless an entirely new variant emerges that can evade vaccines, the reimposition of pandemic restrictions will not be needed.

Mandatory masks ‘wouldn’t cut it’

Earlier today, Taoiseach Micheál Martin said a return of mandatory mask-wearing “wouldn’t cut it” as it is “almost impossible” to stop transmission of the BA.2 lineage of Omicron.

The Taoiseach was responding to a joint statement from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation (INMO) and the Irish Association for Emergency Medicine (IAEM) which called for government intervention to curb the spread of Covid-19 in hospitals. 

The statement said that rates of Covid-19 infection are causing high rates of hospital admission and that over 10,000 patients have been without a bed since 28 February. 

Figures released by the INMO today show that March was the worst March for hospital overcrowding since the union began counting trolleys in 2006. 

A total of 11,001 patients went without a bed during the month.

Public health officials yesterday announced 12,508 new Covid-19 infections. As of 8am yesterday, 1,610 people were in hospital with Covid-19, including 49 patients in ICU. 

The new BA2 variant that is currently spreading is about 30% more contagious, but not more dangerous, than the BA1 Omicron variant.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Today with Claire Byrne programme today, Martin said that public health advice remains that people should wear a mask in crowded spaces but that making this mandatory would not be effective. 

This is a highly transmissible variant now, the BA2, much more transmissible than any variant we’ve witnessed before. Thankfully, it’s not as virulent or doesn’t appear to be damaging health to the same extent as earlier variants did. Not causing greater hospital admissions and ICU in particular remaining fairly stable.

“The view from public health is that this variant is so transmissible, that it’s almost impossible to stop transmission in relation to it,” he said.  

Martin added that “incidental” admissions of people with Covid-19 in hospital still puts extra pressure on resources because isolation is required for those patients. 

Martin said the fact that public health advice remains that people should wear a masks in dorr crowded spaces “shouldn’t be dismissed”. 

“The guidance is that people should wear masks, but the regulatory situation wouldn’t in my view at this stage change the hospital pressures,” he said. 

Martin said we are now in a “another phase of Covid” which will be “more disruptive of society”, whereas earlier phases were “more damaging in health terms and in terms of mortality”.   


A total of 29,506 patients have been without a bed in Irish hospitals so far this year.

The most overcrowded hospitals this month are University Hospital Limerick (1,671 patients), University Hospital Galway (947), Letterkenny University Hospital (781), Cork University Hospital (735) andSt Vincent’s University Hospital (699). 

In their statement, the INMO and IAEM said medical and nursing staff are exhausted from being on the frontline during continuous Covid-19 waves. 

IAEM President Fergal Hickey said that “the situation in Irish hospitals at present is the worst that many of my colleagues and I have seen in our careers”. 

“The situation at present is intolerable for all who work in our hospitals,” Hickey said. 

The INMO and IAEM said public health measures must be revisited, “particularly the simple ones – mask wearing indoors and congregated settings and working from home”. 

“Predictable overcrowding in winter, mixed with higher community spread of an airborne contagious infection means decision-makers are not in the dark,” INMO general secretary Phil Ní Sheaghdha said.

“Abandoning our public acute hospitals is a decision that Government cannot make, this would be the wrong decision for patients and the wrong one for staff,” Ní Sheaghdha said.

“Hospitals are currently not safe for patients or for staff because of the level of overcrowding and Covid infection levels,” she said. 

“We need clear and coherent public health advice from Government and senior public health officials. The public need to be made aware of why we need them to once again step up to the plate in order to protect those who are working on our frontlines.” 

The emergency powers permitting the government to impose legal restrictions during the pandemic appear set to be allowed lapse as planned tonight. 

These powers have previously been reintroduced on several occasions as the pandemic continued to rage on.

This time, however, the government is preparing to let the legislation fall.

With reporting by Lauren Boland and Rónán Duffy

Your Voice
Readers Comments
This is YOUR comments community. Stay civil, stay constructive, stay on topic. Please familiarise yourself with our comments policy here before taking part.
Leave a Comment
    Submit a report
    Please help us understand how this comment violates our community guidelines.
    Thank you for the feedback
    Your feedback has been sent to our team for review.

    Leave a commentcancel