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Varadkar says wearing a face mask would not be compulsory if introduced

The Taoiseach said an update on the wearing of masks in public is due this week.

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Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with staff at the Covid-19 Community Assessment Hub in DCU Collins Avenue (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with staff at the Covid-19 Community Assessment Hub in DCU Collins Avenue (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

Minister for Health Simon Harris and Taoiseach Leo Varadkar with staff at the Covid-19 Community Assessment Hub in DCU Collins Avenue (Leon Farrell/Photocall Ireland/PA)

The Taoiseach has said the wearing of face masks in public would not be compulsory if it was introduced.

The use of masks in public is being considered as part of efforts to tackle coronavirus in Ireland, Leo Varadkar said.

His comments came as the Scottish government issued guidance for people to shield their faces in places such as shops and on public transport.

The powersharing executive in Northern Ireland is due to consider a similar proposal.

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(PA Graphics)

(PA Graphics)

Press Association Images

(PA Graphics)

Mr Varadkar said: “On the issue of face coverings – I’m not going to say masks because we want to make sure masks are preserved for healthcare staff – the issue of getting people to wear face coverings is under consideration at the moment.

“We are seeing what is happening in other countries. The science is equivocal – some people will say it is a good idea and some will say it is a bad idea.

“It is not one of those straightforward decisions where science tells you what the right thing to do is.

“I think we will be in a position to offer revised advice to the Irish public later in the week. Because the science is so uncertain on it, it is not something that we would make compulsory but something we would make advisory.”

Ireland is not where it needs to be to ease the lockdown on May 5, he said.

On Tuesday, the Department of Health said 59 more people had died after being diagnosed with Covid-19, of which 45 were laboratory confirmed.

It takes the total number of Covid-19-related deaths in the Republic of Ireland to 1,159.

“Regarding the exit plan or exit strategy, we hope to be in a position to share it with the Irish public in the next couple of days or certainly the weekend.

“What that plan will do is set out the steps as to how we will reopen the country and society based on different intervals. We will also get new advice from the chief medical officer on Friday as to when we should start the process of reopening the country.

“We need to look at the number of patients in ICUs (intensive care units) with Covid-19, the number of new cases and the number of deaths.

“I don’t think I would be out of school by saying those numbers just aren’t good enough yet. Maybe it will change significantly by Friday but I don’t think we are there yet.

“There are over 100 patients with Covid in ICUs and a lot of new cases yesterday.

“It was the lowest increase in new cases we have seen in some time but still they are new cases.”

Mr Varadkar said he understands people are frustrated and he is grateful to the public for their co-operation to date.

“People are starting to see other countries opening up and they’re wondering why we’re not. Bear in mind, it has also been the case that some of those countries are a week or two ahead of us in terms of the virus.”

He said he wants to make the right decision at the right time rather than end up reversing the decision.

“The last thing we want to do – and it may be inevitable and unavoidable – is to open the country too quickly and have to go backwards again.”

PA