Northern Ireland news

Coronavirus: Stormont to discuss the wearing of masks after Scotland recommendation

It’s no wonder the public is confused about wearing face masks
Rebecca Black, PA

The Northern Ireland executive is set to discuss the wearing of masks to protect against Covid-19.

Earlier the Scottish government recommended wearing face masks in public in “limited circumstances”.

Stormont Health Minister Robin Swann said conversations were being had within the Executive about masks but expressed concern they could lead to a “false sense of security”.

Northern Ireland’s chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride warned that face coverings were not substitute for social distancing and good hand hygiene.

Read More: To wear a mask or not to wear a mask?

Speaking at the executive’s daily media broadcast Mr Swann said ministers will be guided by medical advice.

“It’s a conversation that actually started in the executive this week, but as a conversation it will be had within the executive, supported by medical advice and guidance,” he said.

“But one thing that would concern us is that face coverings actually lead to a false sense of security.

“And we see those other measures in regards to good hand hygiene and social distancing then start to become less prevalent and people rely on a face covering more than they do on the advice and the guidance that we’ve been following for the past number of weeks, advice and guidance that has been working.”

Dr McBride said face covering must not be seen as a substitute for good hand hygiene.

He warned that anyone with symptoms and their family should self isolate.

“It is hugely important that we still continue to adhere to the guidance on stay at home … the most important thing to do when you leave home is to adhere to the advice on physical distancing, on good respiratory and hand hygiene,” he said.

“Wearing a face covering must not be seen as a substitute for adhering to that guidance and advice, on good respiratory and hand hygiene.

“There is some limited evidence, and it is limited evidence that if you are in an enclosed space and unable to adhere to the advice on social distancing, then the wearing of some form of face covering may be of benefit but the benefit is marginal, to say the least.

“And I understand for that reason, in Scotland the advice is not mandatory.

“It’s not going to be enforced.

“But ultimately, these are policy decisions, which ultimately will be matters for the Executive to decide.”

 The Republic's chief medical officer also said that the use of face masks in public is being considered as part of efforts to tackle coronavirus.

Dr Holohan said the wearing of face masks was “one of the measures we are giving consideration to”.

He told the daily Covid-19 briefing that the National Public Health Emergency Team was examining whether they should be used by the “general population” as well as in healthcare settings.

Dr Holohan stressed that there would be a need to protect supplies of healthcare grade masks if that policy was to be implemented.

“If we were to introduce such a measure, we would have to be very clear that we want to protect healthcare grade masks of all kinds for use in healthcare settings or for use by people who have been recommended to wear masks by their doctors, that does happen for some people,” he said.

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