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Coronavirus: Consider masks, urges Executive days after describing case for coverings as 'weak'

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A woman wearing a face mask

A woman wearing a face mask

AFP via Getty Images

A woman wearing a face mask

The Executive has urged the public to use "natural clothing items" to cover their mouths when in enclosed spaces rather than clinical masks

Speaking at yesterday's Covid-19 briefing, First Minister Arlene Foster explained that the recommendation was based on specialist advice.

She said it was agreed that the public should consider using coverings for short periods of time in enclosed spaces where social distancing was not possible.

Mrs Foster added, however: "It is important to differentiate between masks manufactured for a clinical setting and face coverings which are often home-made or natural clothing items used by individuals in day-to-day life.

"We are focused on face coverings. The Executive's view is based on our own specialist advice and is consistent with the position of Sage (Scientific Advisory Group for Emergencies), which has concluded that, on balance, there is enough evidence to support the recommendation of community use of cloth face masks for short periods in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible."

Health Minister Robin Swann said that, in practice, the new guidance would translate into people wearing coverings while shopping or while travelling on buses and trains, for example.

He added that using face masks in no way reduced the need for social distancing or regular hand-washing.

"It is agreed that we recommend that members of the public consider the use of face coverings for short periods in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible," Mr Swann said.

"While evidence on the overall protection provided by face coverings is not conclusive, on balance it is sufficient to recommend that members of the public consider using them in particular circumstances. In practice, these circumstances will largely relate to public transport and retail environments.

"Their use will not be mandatory. Crucially, face coverings must not lead to any false sense of security about the level of protection provided.

"It is essential that everyone continues to practise social distancing as much as humanly possible, wash their hands thoroughly throughout the day and 'catch it, kill it, bin it' when they sneeze or cough.

"That's still the best way to protect yourself and others from Covid-19."

Earlier this month DUP leader Mrs Foster described the medical case for using face masks in public as "pretty weak".

She accepted, however, that they could potentially provide added reassurance to people venturing out when restrictions on movement begin to ease.

At the time, Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill said the Executive was due to hold further discussions on whether it should issue an official advisory notice on the use of face coverings.

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said last month that any benefit from wearing face masks would be "marginal at the very least".

Health Minister Mr Swann previously warned that any change in advice about the wearing of face masks in could create to a false sense of security.

However, the Scottish Government has recommended the wearing of face coverings in "limited circumstances".

Belfast Telegraph