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Face masks: Executive delay introduction of enforcement following change in exemptions

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The spread of the Omicron variant has seen Covid case numbers soar. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

The spread of the Omicron variant has seen Covid case numbers soar. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

PA

The spread of the Omicron variant has seen Covid case numbers soar. Photo: Liam McBurney/PA Wire.

A grace period around the enforcement of mask wearing is to be extended, according to a letter from the Stormont Executive Office.

The letter signed by Paul Givan and Michelle O’Neill and directed to the Stormont Assembly speaker Alex Maskey states that an initial grace period of January 7 was agreed before enforcement around the wearing of face coverings was to be implemented.

This was also published on the NI Direct page in advice given to members of the public.

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It followed a general shift in the emphasis on masks undertaken by the Executive following their meeting before Christmas, when they removed some exemptions over the wearing of masks where it caused severe stress.

It remains a legal requirement for people to wear face coverings on public transport, in shops and indoor attractions - unless they are exempt.

However, the onus of proving an exemption on medical grounds was to be placed on the individual, with enforcement on the policy to begin from Friday.

However, the statement from the First Ministers to MLAs providing an update on the issue of exemptions confirmed enforcement needed “further detailed consideration”.

“As the Assembly was previously advised, the Executive decided on 22 December to remove the exemption from wearing a face covering on the grounds that it causes severe stress; and to place on the individual the onus of proving an exemption on medical grounds,” the letter said.

“A grace period until 7 January before enforcement is implemented was also agreed.

“In light of the need to give further detailed consideration to the logistical issues involved in obtaining proof of exemption, the Executive has now also decided to extend this grace period to a date to be further determined and to remit the Executive’s Covid Taskforce to undertake further meetings with stakeholders.

“This matter will be discussed again at the Executive meeting scheduled for 6 January.”

The move was welcomed by some MLAs including the Alliance Party’s Paula Bradshaw who wrote: “Pleased to see that @niexecutive has extended the grace period re requirement to demonstrate exemption from wearing a face mask.

“I know that a lot of people have been worried about this looming, total, change in policy.”


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