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Editor's Viewpoint

Clarity needed over face mask benefits

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Laura Copeland (left) and Daniel Gorman through Belfast City Centre's shopping district wearing a face mask. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

Laura Copeland (left) and Daniel Gorman through Belfast City Centre's shopping district wearing a face mask. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

PA

Laura Copeland (left) and Daniel Gorman through Belfast City Centre's shopping district wearing a face mask. Picture: Liam McBurney/PA Wire

In the midst of a continuing pandemic, the last thing the Northern Ireland public needs is conflicting or confusing statements from the Stormont Executive.

Already this week we have seen the results of seemingly contradictory advice on whether people should holiday abroad or not.

The guiding principle appeared to be that no one should travel abroad unless their journey was essential, which would prove to be something of a stretch when it came to a break on a foreign beach.

At the same time, First Minister Arlene Foster said she would not tell people they couldn't go abroad, even though she pledged herself to taking a holiday at home.

However, it seems that the Executive did not learn the lesson about issuing conflicting advice.

Yesterday there was a similar mix-up over whether the wearing of face masks in shops would be mandatory and, if so, when that law would be introduced.

Health Minister Robin Swann was forced to make a second statement shortly after the initial one to clear up the confusion.

What the Executive was trying to say was that the wearing of face masks would become compulsory on August 20 if the public did not heed advice to do so voluntarily. Essentially, the next three weeks will be a test of the public's willingness to act responsibly.

In the meantime, Stormont will begin a public information campaign to encourage the voluntary use of the masks.

It certainly did not get off to a good start, with people left baffled over when, or if, they would be forced to wear the protective masks.

Of course, there is pressure on Executive ministers to please business as well as protect public health and that is a very delicate balancing exercise. However, it is vital that information, advice or guidance for all parties is spelled out in clear terms so that everyone knows what is expected of them.

It is not an exaggeration to say that failure to get messages across could have lethal consequences.

The wearing of masks in shops has already proved to be controversial, with retailers lobbying against making it mandatory. The health advice is that it can help contain the spread of the coronavirus.

The problem for the Government is to make a compelling case. The benefits need to be set out in simple and effective terms so that the widest possible number of people can make informed decisions.

Belfast Telegraph