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NPHET looking at whether to mandate the use of face masks instead of visors

Varadkar floated the idea of fines with examples given such as a €50 fine for not wearing a mask.

Image: Sam Boal

HEALTH MINISTER STEPHEN Donnelly has said the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) is looking at whether to update advice to mandate the use of face masks where visors are being used.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Prime Time, the minister said it would appear that visors are “not as effective” as face masks, but said he did not know and had asked the public health team to inquire.

It is also understood that a graduated fines system for breaching Covid-19 rules, such as not wearing a face mask or leaving the county when restrictions are in place, are also being considered by government.

One idea under consideration for graduated fines include a €50 on-the-spot fine for not wearing a face mask or leaving your county during restrictions.

Currently anyone who does not wear a face covering without a reasonable excuse being given can receive a fine of up to €2,500 or up to 6 months imprisonment.

However, it is understood that government is concerned about the task of enforcement by gardaí given the high penalty, with a view that perhaps something smaller like a €20-€50 fine for leaving the county or not wearing a mask would work better.

The government is likely to focus encouraging public compliance and watch how on the ongoing garda operation goes in the coming days. 

Justice Minister Helen McEntee confirmed the government is looking at what measures worked in other jurisdictions and the possibility of on-the-spot fines.

However, she said the measures would raise other questions as to what to do if have to be if people refused to pay the fines. “We are continuing to look at this,” she said.

She also confirmed yesterday the gardaí would not be getting any additional legal powers to enforce the government’s restrictions.

Varadkar had stated that gardaí would be given enforcement powers.

“We will update the laws, potentially to bring in a different system of fines and so on,” he said, but he failed to give more detail.

Health Minister Stephen Donnelly said earlier this week that it comes down to “personal responsibility”, adding that there would be additional funding for gardaí to step up enforcement and to ensure a higher presence.  

The Irish Council for Civil Liberties has previously spoken out against any reintroduction of expanded powers of enforcement or the use of criminal penalties.

The group said the restrictions should not be policed by coercion and force.

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At last night’s Fine Gael parliamentary party meeting, the idea of a ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown was also raised by the Tánaiste.

Other senior government sources have said that such circuit break restrictions are “not off the table”.

Leo Varadkar is understood to also have spoken about possibly looking at a matrix for when we hit each level in terms of an infection rate and other criteria determines each level. 

The majority of TDs and senators praised Varadkar for his public criticism of NPHET on the Claire Byrne programme last night. 

The idea of rolling out a new model to deal with public health advice was also discussed.

Former housing minister Eoghan Murphy suggested the National Emergency Coordination Group, which dealt with extreme weather events in the past, be involved.

The wide range of stakeholders, which include the gardaí and the Defence Forces, could help consider the advice and its implications. 

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