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Dublin: 15 °C Thursday 13 August, 2020
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'I think we can do better': Dr Holohan urges more people to wear face masks in public

The chief medical officer said he’d been shopping at the weekend and was struck by the number of people not wearing one.

Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan
Chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan
Image: Brian Lawless/PA Images

IRELAND’S CHIEF MEDICAL officer has urged more people to wear face masks in public.

Dr Tony Holohan warned that the mission to suppress coronavirus is not yet accomplished.

His comments came on a day when Ireland moved to the second phase of its accelerated lockdown exit plan, with shops opening across the country and relaxations on the extent to which people can travel and socialise.

The coronavirus death toll in the country rose to 1,683 yesterday after a further four deaths were announced.

There were only nine new confirmed cases of the virus, the lowest daily tally since the early days of the outbreak in March.

There have been a total of 25,207 people infected since the emergency began.

The government advises the wearing of face masks on public transport, in retail outlets and other indoor settings where social distancing may prove challenging. It is only guidance and not mandatory.

Dr Holohan told a Covid-19 media briefing that he had been shopping himself at the weekend, wearing a mask, and was struck by the number of people who did not have one on.

“I did notice that the majority of people were not wearing masks, and it is our clear recommendation … that people in those settings should wear them,” he said.

“And maybe the shops and retail environments might take steps to remind the public of the importance of sticking to the advice we’re giving.”

He stressed that face masks were only an additional hygiene measure and were not a substitute for other precautions, such as hand washing and social distancing.

The CMO said there remained a reluctance to making the wearing of masks and face shields mandatory.

“I think that we can get further progress on the implementation of that guidance, and I think we can do better,” he said.

“And I think part of our reluctance in moving in the direction of mandatory is because we know the evidence isn’t absolutely firm and clear, the scientific consensus is not firm and clear in relation to face masks.

“But we believe it’s sufficiently robust for us to, when we think about that guidance, when we look at things from a precautionary point of view, for us to recommend the use of face masks as an additional measure in the settings in which we have identified – indoor settings, particularly retail and public transport.

We think it will be an important additional hygiene measure, but we are sensitive to the fact that some people cannot wear face masks for medical reasons and there are good reasons why that may well be the case. And so we’re stopping short of making it mandatory, but we keep all of this under review.

“But right now I don’t see us having a change but I think we will redouble our efforts and we’ll redouble our efforts to advise the public about the importance of wearing masks in public and in retail situations, which is why we keep stressing it.”

Dr Holohan welcomed the relatively low number of infections announced on Monday and acknowledged that the key indicators of Covid-19 remained on a downward trajectory.

But he cautioned: “Mission has not been accomplished.

“We have two more phases to go. We’re in the second phase now of the easing of restrictions.

“We’re only halfway through this.”

Re-opening

More people were able to return to work yesterday, including all those who work on their own or whose work could be done safely while staying two metres apart from others.

All retail stores were able to reopen, but opening times will be staggered to relieve pressure on public transport.

The easing of restrictions now allows people to travel up to 20km from their home, or further if they can remain within their own county.

Groups of up to six are able to interact indoors with social distancing, and groups of up to 15 are able to meet for outdoor sporting activities.

Work took place across the weekend at shops to prepare their premises for reopening, with social distancing markers being placed on the ground as well as signage.

In Dublin city centre, queues formed from before 10.30am yesterday, when many shops reopened.

2.54063150 A couple wearing face masks shopping in Dublin’s Henry Street yesterday

Temporary public toilets opened in the city centre, as they remain closed in cafes, restaurants and shopping centres.

A long queue formed outside the Zara store on Dublin’s South King Street, with limited numbers allowed in at a time to accommodate social distancing.

There was a priority queue for older shoppers in several stores, to allow them to shop between 10am and noon.

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Customers were told to use the hand sanitiser at the entrance and staff in most shops wore gloves and masks.

A group of friends from Dublin were among the first to enter the Zara store.

Sarah Keane, 17, said: “We weren’t anxious about going into the shops again after all these weeks. We have loads of hand sanitiser and gloves with us and the shops aren’t allowed to be packed.”

In Ballymun in Dublin, hundreds of people joined the queue to get into the Ikea store, which stretched far beyond the store.

People who are 70 or older, or are medically vulnerable, were able to have visitors in their homes from yesterday, with social distancing observed and the wearing of masks advised.

Up to 25 people are now allowed to attend funerals.

Public libraries are able to reopen, as are playgrounds and outdoor camps for children, provided there are no more than 15 people involved, and some elite sports training will be possible.

Horse and greyhound racing resumed without spectators.

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