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Virus will take grip again if masks slip from our faces

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It is now mandatory to wear face masks on public transport
Photo: Mark Condren

It is now mandatory to wear face masks on public transport Photo: Mark Condren

It is now mandatory to wear face masks on public transport Photo: Mark Condren

The 'softly softly' approach to mandatory masks on public transport seems to be working with high levels of compliance when the new regulations came into force yesterday.

Bus Éireann and Iarnród Éireann reported over 90pc compliance, while Dublin Bus said it was in the 80-90pc range. It was a little less on the Luas lines in Dublin and varied a lot on private buses.

Apart from children under the age of 13, some adults are exempt, such as those with trouble breathing, those with special or medical needs, etc.

The message about face coverings was well flagged in advance and was clear to transport users yesterday, with signs on bus scrolls and in railway stations.

So too were the penalties for failure to comply, which can lead to a fine of up to €2,500 as well as a possible jail sentence of six months.

But what was not made clear was who was going to enforce the rule if a passenger refused to follow it. Nor was it clear there was sufficient consultation with the bus drivers who are expected to help enforce the requirement.

Ideally, of course, voluntary compliance is much better than compulsion. We need mass education and persuasion to nudge people into accepting face coverings as an essential part of travelling on public transport.

It will take time to adjust to this new reality, just as it did to the ban on smoking in pubs in 2004. Smoking indoors is now socially unacceptable. So should be a refusal to wear a face covering without a justifiable reason on public transport for as long as Covid-19 is so easily transmitted.

It would be so easy for Ireland to get back to unacceptable levels of transmission. Just look at what is happening elsewhere.

Three weeks ago the state of Florida had an average of 30 deaths a day from the virus - now that's more than doubled to 73, while the numbers testing positive topped the 15,000 mark on Sunday. This was the highest daily rate of any US state - the previous record had been set last Wednesday in California, which reported 11,694 positive cases.

As of Sunday, there were more than 3.2 million confirmed cases across the US and 135,066 deaths, according to the John Hopkins University's virus tracker.

The real figure for cases is certainly much higher but telling the truth about the virus has resulted in the sidelining of Dr Anthony Fauci, the US government's top infectious disease expert.

Americans trust him more than their president but Donald Trump has recently intensified his public criticism. "Dr Fauci is a nice man but he's made a lot of mistakes," Mr Trump said last week, damning him with faint praise.

We are fortunate to be spared such political attacks on our medical experts, who are held in high regard. But we also need to take their warnings seriously.

Reminding us that the virus has not gone away, acting chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said it needs only the smallest window of opportunity to become a major problem once again.

Irish Independent