CONFIRMED: Face masks will no longer be mandatory in shops, schools or public transport
Taoiseach Micheal Martin confirmed on Friday afternoon that the government has accepted NPHET's advice to scrap the mandatory wearing of face masks in most settings beyond healthcare.
Face masks will only be mandatory in healthcare settings beyond February 28, it has been confirmed. They will no longer be required in shops, school or on public transport.
The Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly has also published the advice he received from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) regarding mandatory masks and a number of other remaining restrictions, particularly on schools and childcare providers.
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It was recommended that the following measures could be removed with effect from February 28:
Mandatory mask-wearing in areas where it is currently regulated for, including: public transport, taxis, retail and other indoor public settings, and staff in hospitality settings.
Public health measures in early learning settings, school-aged childcare, primary and secondary schools, including physical distancing measures such as pods, and mask wearing.
Minister Donnelly said: “The current epidemiological profile of COVID-19 continues to provide a broadly stable and positive outlook.
“The advice from NPHET to remove mandatory mask-wearing is a key indicator that we are moving forward in terms of our ability to live with COVID-19. Our ability to ease restrictions is thanks to the response and support of people across the country and our successful vaccine programme.
“I welcome these recommendations and I would like to take this opportunity to thank members of the NPHET for their expertise, commitment and guidance through what has been such a difficult period. Their contribution cannot be overstated.”
Whilst mask wearing will no longer be mandatory in certain settings, the NPHET recommended that masks should still be worn in healthcare settings, and on public transport where physical distancing can be difficult and where those who are more vulnerable to the severe impacts of COVID-19 do not always have discretion to avoid. It also recommended that other public health protection layers, including hygiene measures, ventilation and staying at home if symptomatic, are continued.
The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation issued a statement on Friday saying "this pandemic is far from over," and asked the government to consider the possible future impact of lifting mask-wearing policies on the health system.
INMO General Secretary, Phil Ní Sheaghdha said: “The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation is urging Government to take serious caution when it comes to implementing this advice and take on board the current ability of the public health system to cope with additional pressure that the removal of the mask requirement may have on the health system.
“There is a clear link between reduced transmission and mask wearing. Removing the mask requirement in congregated settings particularly with poor ventilation, such as public transport, could have a detrimental impact.
“Our hospitals are under severe pressure. As of this morning, 15,705 patients have been without a bed in our hospitals so far this year. Our nurses and midwives have been dealing with overcrowding coupled with COVID transmission and are burnt out and exhausted. We cannot have a case of increased COVID transmission within our hospitals at this juncture.
“The pandemic is far from over for nurses and midwives. Government needs to exercise caution when it comes to your easing mask requirements. Until Government makes headway into dealing with the trolley crisis, the mask mandate should remain in place.”
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