The caution has been made by a professor from the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Speaking to Radio Ulster’s Good Morning Ulster programme Prof Martin McKee said he was “surprised” at the retail sector thinking face coverings could deter people.
“Everywhere else it provides people with confidence,” said Prof McKee.
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“So I think they’re wrong and I think they need to look at the polling data on this.
“The public are way ahead of them, just as the public were way ahead of the politicians whenever the lockdown came.”
Prof McKee said it was crucial people understood face masks were worn not to protect you, but to protect other people.
“Face coverings do provide some protection for you, but the primary role is to prevent other people getting infected,” he said.
During the discussion Health Minister Robin Swann said he would be in favour of the wearing of face coverings in shops.
He repeated his calls for face coverings to be made mandatory in Northern Ireland.
Robin Swann said he wanted face coverings worn in Northern Ireland in public “as soon as possible”.”
He added that was his opinion and it would be discussed later in Stormont.
“The priority for me has always been to prevent the spread of coronavirus because if coronavirus spreads, the NHS is under pressure,” Mr Swann told the BBC.
Face coverings are already mandatory in shops in Scotland and will become compulsory in England from Friday.
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