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Mask wearing looks set to become optional in the coming weeks

It is understood that members of NPHET are positive about the current Covid-19 situation.

Passengers wearing masks on a Luas recently
Passengers wearing masks on a Luas recently
Image: RollingNews.ie

RULES REQUIRING FACE masks to be worn on public transport, in shops and in schools are expected to become optional in the coming weeks, The Journal understands.

The Government looks set to make the rules around mask wearing guidance, rather than mandatory, according to senior sources.

The rule for schools is likely to be dropped next week, with public transport and shops changing later this month. 

Members of the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) met with Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on Monday night ahead of their meeting later this week. 

Health officials are understood to have been positive about the progress made against Covid-19 during the briefing, paving the way for the lifting of remaining Covid restrictions.

There was no suggestion that anything would hinder the move for mask-wearing to become a guidance rather than a legal mandate in a matter of weeks. 

It was indicated last month that a review of those restrictions, such as the wearing of face masks, would take place by 28 February.

While the majority of restrictions have been scrapped, the wearing of face masks is still in place in a number of settings such as shops, supermarkets, cinemas and on public transport. 

NPHET are also due to discuss the requirement for children aged between nine and 12 to wear face masks in schools, a rule which has been in place since early December, on Thursday. 

Taoiseach Micheál Martin said last week said it would be his personal preference that adults would continue to wear masks in retail settings and on public transport. 

A spokesman for the Taoiseach told reporters today that while he holds that personal opinion, he believes face mask wearing should not be a legal mandatory requirement, but guidance only and a matter of personal choice.

Speaking last week, Martin said: “Irrespective of whether it is mandated or not, I would recommend that people would wear masks in retail and public transport for some time yet.”

Sources stressed that the Government decision would depend on NPHET advice. However, they said mask-wearing is expected to lift for schools shortly. 

Although there is likely to be a recommendation for people to wear face coverings on public transport and retail, it is understood that this will be in the form of guidelines only and not as a mandatory legal requirement. 

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While the Covid-19 situation has dominated many Cabinet meetings in the past, there was no discussion about it today among ministers. 

NPHET will meet on Thursday, but there are no plans for a Cabinet meeting at the end of the week to discuss any recommendations.

Sources have said they are likely to move quickly on any recommendation to end the requirement for children to wear masks in school.

They have also said that it is likely that NPHET will be “pared back” in the coming weeks and months. 

A Government spokesperson said that there would be a “natural discussion” within Government over the coming weeks and months as to what will happen to the group.

It was pointed out that the name of the group itself – the National Public Health Emergency Team – states that it was set up to deal with an emergency situation, but that Ireland is moving away from that emergency situation now.

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