PSNI officers have been told “not to get into the territory” of face mask enforcement, it has been reported.
The BBC Stephen Nolan show reported of a “trusted source” who asked officers at a service station about people not wearing masks. It was claimed the instruction had been issued because “the law was not clear”.
It was reported that police will not ask people to wear a face mask as they could be exempt.
"They [police officers] have been specifically told not to get into that territory,” it was reported.
The PSNI said officers took an “engage, explain and encourage” approach.
A law was introduced in August last year making it mandatory for people to wear face masks in a variety of settings in a bid to reduce the spread of Covid-19.
Last week, the Belfast Telegraph reported five people had been fined £200 for not wearing a face mask.
SDLP MLA Colin McGrath, a member of the Stormont health committee, said the threat posed by the new Omicron variant, which is believed to be more transmissible than the Delta variant, means it is even more important every step is taken to protect the public from the virus.
“Social distancing, wearing masks, using hand sanitiser, they will all help to break the transmission of this virus so they really can’t be ignored,” he said.
“The problem is that people are becoming more complacent, the pandemic has been going for such a long time, and people are forgetting about the basic steps that keep us safe.
“I really believe that if the police were handing out fines more regularly it would sharpen the mind and people would be less likely not to forget or just decide not to wear face coverings.”
Last Tuesday, 152 people were fined by London Transport in one day for not wearing a face mask and 125 people were asked to get off buses and trains because they were not wearing one.
A PSNI spokesman said: “The policing approach to the wearing of face-coverings, as with other Health Protection Regulations, has been to engage, explain and encourage people to adhere to the regulations and only enforce where necessary. Given that most people when approached by police officers will voluntarily comply with their requests, the amount of enforcement required in respect of face-coverings and therefore the number of FPNs issues will tend to be low.
“We will continue to encourage people to follow the regulations and wear a face covering when required unless they have a medical reason for not doing so.
"We will continue to work with business owners and transport operators across Northern Ireland in a partnership approach and also ask for the co-operation from the public to help us all keep people safe."
The Department for Infrastructure and Translink were asked by the BBC how many fines had been handed out on public transport. Neither could provide an answer to the Nolan show.
The Belfast Telegraph has approached both for comment.