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Coronavirus: 'They should be obligatory' - Experts say public should be wearing face masks while shopping

Health Minister Simon Harris there's a worry that public might see masks as 'magic shield' against Covid-19

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Precaution: A shopper scans a supermarket shelf while wearing a mask Picture: Reuters

Precaution: A shopper scans a supermarket shelf while wearing a mask Picture: Reuters

Precaution: A shopper scans a supermarket shelf while wearing a mask Picture: Reuters

Face masks should be mandatory in public places, according to a member of Ireland's Covid-19 Expert Advisory Group.

Damien Nee is a patient representative on the Covid-19 Expert Advisory Group.

He said that Ireland should follow countries like Germany, France and Spain in making face masks mandatory in public.

Speaking on RTE PrimeTime he said:

"They should be obligatory, especially going into any food shop, because that will ensure that the pandemic does not rise up rapidly again.

"But when I look at all the wise countries that have coped well, it's a core element. It's central to their successfully coping with the growth of coronavirus,.

"If you're a busy-body and you say to somebody going on coughing in a crowded shop at the moment, 'you should wear a face mask', you'd been told what to do with yourself. 'I don't have to, I can do anything I like'. That shouldn't be allowed."

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Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Simon Harris. Photo: Steve Humphreys

Minister for Health Simon Harris, also on the show, said that there are numerous lines of thought on the issue.

"We've had some scientists vehemently argue it should be mandatory, others saying 'absolutely not'," he said.

"I've heard from different patient groups and different advocacy groups I know some people with autism, for example, might find the sensation of a mask uncomfortable, people with allergies, they're not suitable for people under 13.

"The expert advisory group is made up of a range of people. They have discussions, and they make advice to national public health emergency team chaired by the Chief Medical Officer, and the government has accepted the chief medical officers advice in this regard."

The Government he said, are worried that people might perceive face masks as "magic" repellent of the coronavirus.

"We have given very clear guidance that if you are using public transport, or if you're in an indoor space, particularly a space where you can't socially distance, you should wear a face covering.

"I know the Chief Medical Officer is worried about the idea that people think it's a kind of magic shield from Covid-19 and it's not that it's an additional measure.

"I would use it (a face mask), absolutely for public transport or if I'm in a shop and I encourage people to so."

Professor Luke O'Neill, from the School of Biochemistry and Immunology at Trinity College Dublin also backed the use of face masks.

"Even simple cloth masks can be highly effective, the evidence has got stronger and stronger and like last week they showed coronaviruses are trapped by cotton masks, the common cold is a coronavirus.

"That's all the evidence we need. We know the mask traps all the droplets, we know the droplets contain the virus so it's obvious to wear masks, especially if you can't maintain the two meters," he said.

"If there's a risk of breaching two metres we should all be wearing masks."

There has also been a concern that the mandatory use of face masks would result in a shortage of supply for medical-grade masks for frontline workers.

In a statement to Prime Time, the Department of Health said that the global market for medical grade masks is exceptionally competitive, and that the HSE has established a major supply line with China and has other supply sources, including from increased domestic production. It added that the HSE is currently distributing approximately 900,000 to surgical face masks daily across the health service.

However, Hugh Hunt, Sales Director for an Irish company involved in the distribution of PPE said that he could not understand the worry that there would not be enough masks for medical staff.

"I just don't understand that at all. I mean, there's so much supply there that we can get in the millions on a weekly basis. Over the last two weeks we've imported approximately 12 million masks," he said.

"It's very easy to get them now. There's no shortage. Even airfreight, getting them in, which we can bring them in on a regular basis, so in approximately seven days we could get 15 million masks, they're coming from Far East and they're medical grade masks. "

Online Editors