Northern Ireland news

Health minister to propose mandatory wearing of masks in Northern Ireland shops

Customers wear face masks as they shop inside Primark in Oxford Street, London last month. The measure is to become compulsory in England on July 24
Seanín Graham

HEALTH minister Robin Swann is to recommend the Stormont executive make the wearing of face coverings mandatory in shops.

Mr Swann said he is "firmly of the view" the measure should be encouraged.

The development comes a day after Infrastructure minister Nichola Mallon publicly expressed her support for compulsory use of masks among shoppers in Northern Ireland, in line with public transport where the rule became compulsory last week.

The Department of Health did not give a date as to when Mr Swann will bring proposals to his Executive colleagues - they are currently in recess - but it is understood it will be imminent.

In a statement, the health minister said the north's most senior medic, Dr Michael McBride, also backed the move.

In England, it will be mandatory for people going into shops and supermarkets to wear face coverings from from July 24. Those who fail to comply will face a fine of up to £100. Children under 11 and those with certain disabilities will be exempt.

Calls were made yesterday by a trade union representing shop workers for Stormont to act quickly and fall into line with England. Scotland is also implementing the mandatory rule.

The Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said shops should provide security to "enforce" the measure if it is adopted in the north.

Mr Swann said the wearing of face coverings in enclosed spaces should become "second nature" to people over coming months as the health service braces itself for a second wave of Covid-19 in the autumn.

He added: "I have no wish to pre-empt Executive decisions, but I am firmly of the view that everything possible must be done to encourage the wearing of face coverings in retail stores and other indoor spaces where people are not eating, drinking or exercising. The Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser agree.

"It is also the case that making it mandatory would provide clarity and reassurance for members of the public.

“We need to promote every available measure to stop the spread of Covid-19, both now and into the autumn and winter, given the risk of further waves of infection. Wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces will have to become second nature if we are to keep each other safe."

With 'shielding' for thousands of vulnerable 'at risk' groups temporarily lifted on July 31, Mr Swann added that those affected will need public support as they resume everyday activities.

"Wearing face coverings in shops and indoor spaces is an important way to show solidarity with them.".

Meanwhile, Translink yesterday confirmed that a passenger using the cross-border Enterprise train service from Dublin to Belfast had to be escorted off by Gardaí after refusing to wear a face covering.

“Gardaí were called and the passenger was removed from the train at Balbriggan," a spokesman said.

“We are pleased that there has already been a high number of customers using face coverings on our services and at our stations."

The train experienced "a short delay" due to the incident.

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