The Government is not ruling out making face coverings on public transport and retail outlets mandatory to help stop the spread of coronavirus, the Taoiseach has said.
Leo Varadkar launched a Government campaign to encourage people to wear face coverings on buses and trains and other public transport as more shops begin to open.
Mr Varadkar called for the public to use face masks in places where social distancing is difficult, including public transport, crowded indoor places or when visiting the home of someone who has been cocooning.
“It’s seen as an additional hygiene measure that can help reduce the spread of infection,” he said.
“There will be a government ad campaign running over the coming days and weeks.
“I do see people using them more and more so I think the message is getting across.”
Asked whether Government will enforce wearing face coverings, Mr Varadkar said: “We have given it consideration in making it mandatory, we don’t rule that out, but there are real difficulties with that.
“Some people have phobias, some people have breathing difficulties, there’s lots of different reasons as to why you wouldn’t make it mandatory.
“From what we have seen during the pandemic is Irish people really understanding and following public health advice, and we haven’t had to underpin much of that with laws or fines.
“It’s much better to have people understand why it’s right to wear a mask and do it voluntarily.”
He added that the idea of refusing people entry into shops and on public transport without a mask is “under consideration”.
Weâve launched a new campaign today with a simple message: if you are in situations where social distancing is difficult, such as on public transport or in shops, please wear a face covering. Itâs also a good idea to wear one when visiting someone who is vulnerable to #Covid19 pic.twitter.com/zMxQmDuj5w— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) June 15, 2020
Minister for Health Simon Harris said: “Today is a really important step in our information campaign and at each stage of the Covid pandemic we need to look for new measures to take and we know that when it comes to face coverings that you can wear one and make it harder for your droplets to transfer to someone else.
“We are asking you, on all types of public transport and shops, in supermarkets to wear a face covering.
“It’s going to require us getting in the habit of putting our face covering in a bag in your pocket just like you do with you phone, keys or wallet.
“It’s not a magic shield from the coronavirus, but it is an additional hygiene measure.”
Senior civil servant Liz Canavan said that face coverings protect people from the risk of infection others might be carrying.
“You may not even be displaying the symptoms,” she added.
“It’s important how you use your mask or other covering.
“It’s important how you dispose of it, and if it’s reusable how you keep it clean.
“Advice on all of this, including how to make your own face mask is available on gov.ie.”
Deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn told Monday’s coronavirus briefing that it is hoped that more people will wear face coverings in appropriate settings.
He advised the public to wear face coverings if they are in a place where they cannot be sure they can social distance.
However he urged that the covering be put on and removed “appropriately”, and that hands are washed before and afterwards.
Meanwhile, shopping centres have reopened and people are allowed to visit their loved ones in nursing homes and residential care facilities as lockdown measures continue to ease.
The Government had originally not envisaged reopening shopping centres until August 10 but it has been brought forward as coronavirus has been suppressed in recent weeks.
Last Monday, all retail shops reopened, with hundreds turning up to queue at major retailers such as Ikea and Zara.
Shopping centre owners have been given time to modify the inside of the buildings to ensure there can be safe social distancing.
Seating and dining areas will be removed to lessen dwell time among shoppers while people will be advised not to browse for long periods of time.
To enforce social distancing, there will be limits on the number of customers allowed into stores.
People will be allowed to visit nursing homes and residential care facilities following a ban on non-essential visits since early March.
Sage Advocacy, which campaigns for vulnerable people and patients, said people are “counting down the minutes to see their loved ones again”.
Executive director of Sage Advocacy Mervyn Taylor said many families had suffered heartbreak and loss during the pandemic.
He said: “We also recognise how difficult it has been for nursing staff, carers and all workers in care homes and residential care facilities.
People have been advised to ring ahead before they visit a nursing home and to wear a face covering and gloves, and visits should not last more than half an hour.
Ireland’s death toll with Covid-19 remained at 1,706 on Monday after no additional deaths were reported by the National Public Health Emergency Team.
However there are 18 further confirmed cases of Covid-19, taking the total to 25,321.