Prospect of compulsory face masks in NI shops ‘under review’

The possibility of mandatory face masks for Northern Ireland shoppers could be on the horizon after the Stormont Executive confirmed the issue is under review.

Monday, 13th July 2020, 4:49 pm
Prime Minister Boris Johnson, wearing a face mask, talks with a paramedic during his visit to the headquarters of the London Ambulance Service NHS Trust

Prime Minister Boris Johnson urged the public to wear face coverings in shops today, and said an announcement on whether their use will be compulsory in England will be made in the coming days.

Face masks are already mandatory in shops in Scotland.

They are also compulsory in all parts of Great Britain an Ireland for public transport users, with the exception of Wales, who are set to adopt a stricter approach on buses and trains on July 27.

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Face masks became compulsory on public transport on Friday in Northern Ireland, and the Republic of Ireland followed suit today.

Downing Street said that a formal review of the use of face masks in shops was under way after the government faced calls for clarity on the subject.

The PM, wearing a covering during a visit to the London Ambulance Service, said they “have a great deal of value in confined spaces” where people are coming into contact with those they do not normally meet.

He said: “Yes face coverings, I think people should be wearing in shops and in terms of how we do that, whether we will be making that mandatory or not we will be looking at the guidance, we will be saying a little bit more in the next few days.

“We will be looking in the next few days about exactly how, with what tools of enforcement, we think we want to make progress.

“As the virus comes down in incidence and we have more and more success, I think face coverings are a kind of extra insurance we can all use to stop it coming back and stop it getting out of control again.”

Asked by the News Letter whether the Northern Ireland Executive is considering a move to make face coverings mandatory in other places, in addition to public transport, a spokesperson for the Executive Office said: “The Executive keeps the issue of face coverings under continuous review and any changes to the advice will be communicated to the public.”

In May, Northern Ireland Health Minister Robin Swann said: “While evidence on the overall protection provided by face coverings is not conclusive, on balance it is sufficient to recommend that members of the public consider using them in particular circumstances.”

He said the circumstances “largely relate to public transport and retail environments” but stressed the importance of hand washing and social distancing.

Meanwhile, two new coronavirus deaths were reported by the Department of Health at Stormont today.

This follows more than a week with no reports of any deaths from the department, the first time such a milestone had been reached in Northern Ireland.

The total death toll, according to the Stormont department’s figures, now stands at 556.

The total number of confirmed positive coronavirus cases stands at 5,788 in Northern Ireland, after 16 further positive tests were recorded between Friday and Monday. One patient is in intensive care with Covid-19.