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Sunday 10 December 2023 Dublin: 10°C
Respiratory viruses

Chief medical officer has not advocated for a mask mandate, says Taoiseach

Chief Medical Officer Prof Breda Smyth has urged the public to wear masks on public transport and in crowded places.

LAST UPDATE | Jan 10th 2023, 4:16 PM

TAOISEACH LEO VARADKAR has stated that the chief medical officer has not advocated for a mask mandate. 

However, Varadkar told reporters today in Government Buildings that Chief Medical Officer Professor Breda Smyth has advised that people who are using public transport or in health care settings, and other crowded settings should consider wearing a mask. 

His comments come as the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation has called for stronger public health advice around mandated mask-wearing amid a surge in respiratory illnesses

Varadkar said when it comes to public health and when it comes to advice on vaccines and masks, the government “will always be guided by the recommendations of the chief medical officer”.

“And, at least for now, she is not advocating that there should be a mask mandate,” he said.

“What is encouraging certainly when it comes to Covid and RSV, I think we are seeing the incidences peak. We are seeing the numbers in hospital with Covid falling, which is a good sign. But obviously we certainly haven’t seen flu numbers peak at this stage,” said the Taoiseach. 

General Secretary of the INMO Phil Ní Sheaghdha said the union is once again calling on the chief medical officer to issue stronger public health advice in relation to mandated mask-wearing.

“It is our view that it is the responsible thing for policymakers and Government to do at this vital juncture when hospitals are not coping and people’s lives are at a higher risk.

“We know that there is a surge in the spread of RSV, particularly in the Midwest. Our hospitals, especially those in the Midwest and on the Western seaboard, cannot sustain additional pressure from avoidable illnesses,” she said. 

She said it shouldn’t be this difficult to issue strong advice in this regard, adding that there is likely to be pressure on Ireland’s acute hospital system until the end of February at the very least.

Labour TD Duncan Smith told reporters at Leinster House that he believed mask-wearing should be mandatory on public transport and in congregated settings for at least the months of January and February.

While Smith acknowledged that the CMO has issued advice around mask wearing in such settings recently, he said the advice as “not strong enough” and is “not being backed up by the minister the way it would have been during Covid”. 

“The advice is out there without being communicated strongly enough,” he said.

“I think that’s a very, very small ask. I don’t think it’s a big imposition. I think it’s something that should be mandatory again,” said Smith. 

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