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Coronavirus: Mandatory face masks in Northern Ireland shops may still be on cards

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A shopper removes her mask coming out of a shop

A shopper removes her mask coming out of a shop

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Michael Gove

Michael Gove

A shopper removes her mask coming out of a shop

The Executive has not ruled out making face coverings compulsory to enter shops, the Belfast Telegraph can reveal.

The development here comes after it emerged at the weekend that England could follow Scotland by making it mandatory for face coverings to be worn in retail outlets.

Prime Minister Boris Johnson has been pictured wearing a blue face mask while visiting a convenience store, hinting they may become a requirement as well as stressing he wanted to be "stricter" on insisting people wear them.

Yesterday, senior Cabinet Minister Michael Gove poured cold water on the speculation, insisting they should not be made mandatory, but instead worn out of courtesy and consideration for others.

A spokesperson for Stormont's Executive Office said it is monitoring the issue.

"The Executive keeps the issue of face coverings under continuous review and any changes to the advice will be communicated to the public," they said.

"The use of face coverings is now mandatory on public transport, except where an exemption applies.

"They are also strongly recommended in indoor environments where social distancing may be difficult."

Last Friday, face masks became compulsory to wear in Northern Ireland on public transport such as buses, trains and ferry services - as well in premises such as stations.

A decision will be made in relation to private coaches and taxis in the coming weeks by a cross-departmental group.

Exemptions include those who cannot wear face coverings for medical reasons and children aged under 13.

In May, Health Minister Robin Swann had recommended that members of the public consider the use of face coverings for "short periods in enclosed spaces, where social distancing is not possible".

At the time, he explained: "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."

Echoing advice from the Public Health Agency, Mr Swann insisted the wearing of face masks must not "lead to any false sense of security about the level of protection provided".

He also stressed that people should continue to practise effective hand hygiene.

Mr Gove has also said the UK Government will keep the matter under review, stressing though that he believes it was best to trust the public's "common sense".

In an interview with BBC One's The Andrew Marr Show, the Cabinet Office minister said he did not think they should be mandatory.

However, he told the programme: "I would encourage people to wear face masks when they are inside, in an environment where they are likely to be mixing with others and where the ventilation may not be as good as it might.

"I think that it is basic good manners, courtesy and consideration, to wear a face mask if you are, for example, in a shop."

Mr Gove continued: "I trust people's good sense.

"Now of course the Government at all times does look at the emerging evidence about what the best way to control the disease is.

"If necessary, and if tough measures are required and as we have seen in Leicester, obviously a very different situation, then tough measures will be taken," he added.

"But on the whole... it is always best to trust people's common sense."

Labour shadow Cabinet Office minister, Rachel Reeves, said the compulsory wearing of face coverings in shops would be a "sensible way forward".

She insisted the Government must take a stronger stance on the issue.

Appearing on BBC One's andrew Marr show, she told the presenter; "I think people are increasingly wearing them but I think some greater clarity from Government about that, I think, would be helpful.

"People want to do the right thing but they want to know what the right thing is."

The latest figures from the Office for National Statistics (ONS) has found that more than half (52%) of adults in Britain who had left their home during the first week of this month, had worn a face covering.

Yesterday it was reported that a further 21 people have died from Covid-19, bringing the UK's total death toll to 44,819.

No deaths were recorded yesterday in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland.

The total number of people who have died here now stands at 554.

Belfast Telegraph