Politics

Opposition differs over return to mandatory face masks as Covid-19 cases rise


Opposition parties have differed over whether there should be a return of the legal requirement to wear masks on public transport and in shops due to the rising number of Covid-19 cases.

Sinn Féin has urged people to follow the current public health advice on the matter but it is not calling for it to be a requirement by law.

People Before Profit meanwhile, said the return of a legal requirement to wear face masks in certain settings would be a “simple measure” that will slow transmission of Covid-19.

The Government has come under pressure to re-examine Covid-19 restrictions due to the current surge in cases of the high-transmissible BA.2 variant of the virus.

The Government’s public health advisers have not called for renewed restrictions so far and Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has said it would take serious measures to contain the spread.

Instead Mr Donnelly has encouraged people who have not yet had a booster dose of the vaccine to avail of it as the “single biggest thing” that can be done to help take pressure off the hospital system.

Justification

Sinn Féin’s health spokesman David Cullinane said he was briefed by Mr Donnelly last night and was told that chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan is not advising a return to restrictions.

He said there is real pressure on hospitals and that is “a major concern” but added: “we also have to trust the public health experts and listen to what they’re saying.

“And what the CMO is saying in relation to the profile of the disease at the moment is that the sub-variant is highly transmissible but it’s less severe.”

Mr Cullinane said: “tinkering around the edges with restrictions is not going to make any difference because of the transmissibility of the disease which means the only option is for a full level five lockdown.

“And I don’t believe there’s any justification for that and public health justification for it”.

On whether Sinn Féin supports a return of a legal requirement to wear facemasks Mr Cullinane said: “I’m not going to move ahead of the public health advice.”

He said that it is not currently a legal requirement but the current advice is to wear masks on public transport, in healthcare settings and in crowded places indoors and outdoors.

Mr Cullinane said: “people should listen to and abide by the public health advice.”

People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the Covid-19 situation is a “massive crisis” and he criticised Mr Donnelly’s position which he characterised as being that serious measures would be required to do something about the spread of the virus and “therefore, we shouldn’t take any measures”.

On masks Mr Murphy said: “I don’t think it’s too much to ask to implement what is being requested by those who are on the front line and to bring back the legal requirement for mask wearing.”

He said: “It’s a quite a simple measure to take now, which will slow the transmission, ease some of the pressure in our hospitals.”



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