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Government to issue guidance on making and wearing face coverings this week

The public will be told if Ireland can move into phase one of the reopening plan, due to start on Monday May 18, at the end of the week.

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Liz Canavan during a press conference to brief the media on the latest coronavirus developments (Brian Lawless/PA)

Liz Canavan during a press conference to brief the media on the latest coronavirus developments (Brian Lawless/PA)

Liz Canavan during a press conference to brief the media on the latest coronavirus developments (Brian Lawless/PA)

The Government will issue guidance in the next few days about making and wearing face coverings to prevent the spread of Covid-19.

It comes as chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said on Tuesday that there is no plan to make the wearing of face masks compulsory.

Senior Government official Liz Canavan said work is ongoing at government level on the use of face coverings in public.

Speaking at the Covid-19 briefing, she said: “We are aware of questions around the potential use of face masks or coverings as we move to lift restrictions.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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(PA Graphics)

“The National Public Health Emergency Team has said it does see a role for face coverings that are not medical standard in community settings.

“Work is ongoing around guidance and practical communication about the face coverings and how they can be made at home. A key message will be how to safely use face coverings because the evidence is clear. If face masks are not used properly then they can have the effect of increasing the risk of transmission.

“We will have more information for the public about face coverings in the coming days.”

Ahead of some of the restrictions being lifted next week, Ms Canavan warned the public to remain vigilant.

Phase one of the plan is scheduled to start next Monday, May 18, with a formal decision to be made and announced on Thursday or Friday.

Ms Canavan said the Government does not want to have to reintroduce measures in future, as some other countries have had to do due to a spike in coronavirus infections.

She said: “Any lifting of restrictions carries a risk of going backwards and losing the hard-won progress of recent months. This week, we have seen some countries re-instate some restrictions. We do not want to have to do that. We are approaching our reopening in a gradual way. Therefore, it is important that we are disciplined in sticking to the guidelines that apply.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

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(PA Graphics)

“It is also important to remember that we have not started to ease restrictions yet. Every day counts in terms of assessing where we are and how we can move on.”

Meanwhile, a public health expert has said a  lack of community testing for Covid-19 in Northern Ireland is putting the island of Ireland at risk.

Dr Gabriel Scally, president of epidemiology and public health at the Royal Society of Medicine in London, said plans to control the virus remain different between Northern Ireland and the Republic.

He told Newstalk FM: “The big differences are still here in a big way. The WHO (World Health Organisation) have put out three questions to ask: Is the outbreak under control? Is the healthcare system able to cope if there’s a resurgence? And is there a system to detect and manage cases of their contacts and identify if there is a flare-up in a local area?

“That just isn’t present anywhere in the UK, so the outbreak isn’t really under control.

“Certainly in the North, and the rest of the UK, they’re not doing testing in the community. Unless you can test in the community, how are you going to know if the infection is coming back unless you wait until people are carried in sick into hospitals?”

Dr Scally said the difference in isolation times and testing between Northern Ireland and the Republic “needs to be sorted”.

He added: “If you get the virus in Strabane in Co Tyrone you will be told to isolate for seven days. If you get it in Lifford in Co Donegal, you will be told, in keeping with WHO advice, to isolate for 14 days.

“That sort of thing is crazy, but the biggest one has to be the testing and the North really need to sort that out because it puts both parts of the island in jeopardy of this virus going on far longer than it needs to.”

Health officials in the Republic of Ireland are hoping to be in a position to carry out 15,000 tests a day from next week.

It comes as the HSE’s chief clinical officer, Dr Colm Henry, said on Tuesday that more work is needed to reduce the time between the ordering of a test to the completion of contact tracing, from the current median of five days.

Dr Henry said the turnaround for tests carried out on patients in hospital settings is around 24 hours but he said more complex cases, involving people in the community, are taking longer than they should.

The coronavirus death toll in Ireland rose to 1,488 on Tuesday after a further 24 deaths were announced.

Another 107 positive cases were confirmed, taking the total since the outbreak began to 23,242.

PA