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Covid-19: Department of Health refuses to be drawn on questions over NI mask mandate

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The Department of Health in Northern Ireland would not be drawn on whether they are considering a new mask mandate in light of calls for the same in the Republic of Ireland. (Stock image)

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland would not be drawn on whether they are considering a new mask mandate in light of calls for the same in the Republic of Ireland. (Stock image)

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland would not be drawn on whether they are considering a new mask mandate in light of calls for the same in the Republic of Ireland. (Stock image)

The Department of Health in Northern Ireland would not be drawn on whether they are considering a new mask mandate in light of calls for the same in Dublin.

The Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and other health experts have called for a return to mandatory mask wearing in crowded places and on public transport in the Republic of Ireland.

It comes after a surge of summer Covid cases in the Republic with even more expected over the next fortnight, according to Christine Loscher, professor of immunology at Dublin City University.

Figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre indicate that 537 patients with Covid-19 were in Irish hospitals on Saturday morning. This is the highest number recorded since April when cases were on a downward trend.

The most recent data published by the Office for National Statistics (ONS) on June 10 indicates that Northern Ireland is again seeing an increase in the prevalence of the virus. 

However, the NI Department of Health said that “the number of severely ill patients and patients requiring intensive care has not risen”.

A spokesperson commented: “The vaccination continues to provide protection against serious illness and we urge all those eligible to get their Spring booster.”

The department did note though, that the rise in case numbers here “is affecting all age groups and ages in Northern Ireland” and said “there has been an increase in the number of hospital inpatients with Covid-19 in the past two weeks”.

The ONS weekly infection survey shows that for the week ending June 11, 2.34% of the population in Northern Ireland was infected with one of the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron Covid variants.

Three fatalities, in the week ending June 10, further takes the total number of coronavirus-linked deaths recorded by Nisra to 4,643.

The Department of Health did not answer directly whether it is considering introducing masks as a legal requirement again, but said: “The increase in prevalence reminds us that the virus has not gone away.

"It is important that we all continue to remember the steps we can all take to reduce our chance of catching Covid-19 or passing it to others: Meet outdoors if you can, if meeting indoors aim for good ventilation, wear a face covering in enclosed settings with poor ventilation, maintain social distance where possible and remember to observe good respiratory hygiene when coughing or sneezing and wash your hands regularly.”

According to the ONS, while it is “too early to say” if it signals the start of another wave in the pandemic, infections have increased “across all four UK nations.

The Public Health Agency (PHA) here said they are seeing some “small increases over the past couple of weeks”. Dr Gillian Johnston from the Public Health Agency recently warned Covid “hasn’t gone away”.

She confirmed the PHA are in the process of planning their autumn vaccination booster programme, but said this is likely to remain for select groups.

The PHA also said the number of people in Northern Ireland who are testing positive with symptoms has also “gone up by a small amount”.


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