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Minister to make decision on compulsory use of face masks on public transport 'very soon'

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Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Photo by Kelvin Boyes / Press E

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon

Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon will discuss making the wearing of face masks on public transport mandatory in Northern Ireland with her Executive colleagues next week.

Transport Secretary Grant Shapps announced on Thursday that from June 15 it will be compulsory to wear a face mask on buses and trains in England.

Stormont has previously said people should consider covering their face in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible.

Scotland is considering making the measure compulsory, while the Welsh government has said it is a matter of choice.

The Republic has already advised wearing face coverings on public transport or in enclosed indoor public areas. Dr Connor Bamford, a virologist from Queen's University Belfast, says encouraging people to wear masks or face coverings when indoors or in crowded environments is a good idea.

"People should wear face coverings and continue to social distance and practise good hand hygiene," he said.

"It is challenging to say exactly how much protection they will give, but likely it is significant.

"However, masks are not a panacea and we must remember to socially distance and keep up hygiene measures."

Former World Health Organisation (WHO) chief, Professor Karol Sikora, added: "The face mask thing is probably a red-herring, but if it makes people feel better, wear face masks on public transport where you can't socially-distance, and just get people mixing and properly monitor the new incidents of Covid-19 cases."

Ms Mallon held discussions yesterday with union officials, Translink and the Republic's Transport Minister, Shane Ross.

She said afterwards: "While I recognise the scientific advice is that any move at this stage would have a limited public health impact, I am also mindful of the importance of increasing public confidence.

"I am committed to listening to and working with others so we get the right solution for citizens here and I hope to make a further announcement on this issue very soon."

She also described as "deeply frustrating" the lack of engagement with the devolved administrations before the announcement about England was made.

Davy Thompson, deputy regional secretary of Unite, says unions have been calling for the mandatory wearing of face masks "for quite some time".

"What has to be remembered is that a face mask isn't protection for the individual wearing it, it's for those around that person by stopping the spread of germs.

"We believe it is a good move because it is safer and more hygienic, but the wearing of masks should not replace social distancing," he said.

A Translink spokesperson added: "We would encourage passengers to use face coverings when using public transport and will continue to work with staff, passengers and the Department for Infrastructure to implement the appropriate NI Executive guidance on this."

Earlier, First Minister Arlene Foster said the compulsory wearing of face masks on public transport is a "good idea", but stressed that it is no substitute for social distancing and hand washing.

"We've already said some time ago that on public transport or in shops that people may feel more confident if they put face masks on, that's still our position.

"I think it's right that if you are going to have face coverings there, it's probably right that everyone should wear it on public transport," she told the BBC.

Giving evidence to Stormont's Health Committee on Wednesday, Chief Scientific Adviser Professor Ian Young recommended that people wear face coverings when they are out in public.

Belfast Telegraph