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Taoiseach advises public to wear face coverings on public transport and in retail stores

The use of face coverings will not be made a legal requirement.

THE GOVERNMENT HAS advised members of the public to wear face coverings in some public spaces such as public transport and in supermarkets.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar announced today that Phase One of the roadmap, which allows some retail shops to resume trading while observing social distancing guidelines, will proceed from Monday. 

In light of this, Varadkar has advised that members of he public should wear “face coverings when using busy public transport or in enclosed indoor public areas such as retail outlets” but added that it would not be a legal requirement.

“It is not going to be a legal requirement and there is two reasons for that. First of all, the science around it indicates that it may be beneficial but it’s certainly no substitute for all of the other things like washing your hands, social distancing and respiratory etiquette. 

“Secondly, there are some people who will have allergies to face masks and face coverings, and things like that, and we have to bear that in mind. It is face coverings and there will be lots of information made available to people showing how to make face coverings at home, how to use them and how not to use them.”

Health Minister Simon Harris said:”We’re very eager that people don’t criticise or judge people who are not able to wear a face covering.”

Some people could have allergies, autism or other conditions that prevents them from choosing to wear one. He said it is not recommended that children under the age of 13 wear a face covering.

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Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan added that this is not a “silver bullet” to prevent spread of the virus, adding that it is simply another measure to compliment existing measures such as hand hygiene. 

“We cannot regard face coverings as some kind of magic shield in relation to this disease,” he said.

“It’s a supplement to the other measures that we are recommending… hand-washing needs to be maintained, we’re concerned if the message was to get out about the value of face coverings to be interpreted in a way that meant maybe we don’t have to worry about washing our hands as much… that is not the case.

This is an additional measure, it’s not a magic bullet for this disease.

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) had been discussing the issue at its meetings this week. Holohan had indicated that advice on how to make coverings at home and on how to properly wear them would be given.

Along with advice around hand hygiene and social distancing from the health authorities to Cabinet this week, NPHET also advised wearing face coverings in these spaces but added these should be “non-medical face coverings”. 

Unions including Siptu, however, said they were disappointed that face coverings were not made mandatory for those travelling on public transport. 

“It very disappointing, to say the least, that today’s advice is advisory and not mandatory for those using public transport. We wrote to the National Transport Authority and the Minister for Transport, Shane Ross, on the 27 April calling for the introduction of mandatory face covering for passengers,” it said in a statement. 

“Public transport workers are frontline essential workers and their safety and that of their families must be afforded every protection possible to allow them to continue to provide a service.”

In early April, the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) published an opinion document on the suitability of face masks and other face coverings in the community for individuals who are not ill.

It stated that the use of face masks in public may serve as a means of “source control to reduce the spread of the infection in the community by minimising the excretion of respiratory droplets from infected individuals who have not yet developed symptoms or who remain asymptomatic”.

It also advised that the use of non-medical face coverings could be considered if it would not lead to increased competition between the healthcare service and the public for face masks.

“The use of face masks in the community could be considered, especially when visiting busy, closed spaces, such as grocery stores, shopping centres, or when using public transport, etc.

“The use of non-medical face masks made of various textiles could be considered, especially if – due to supply problems – medical face masks must be prioritised for use as personal protective equipment by healthcare workers.”

With reporting from Conor McCrave

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