Northern Ireland news

Executive recommends face coverings in some enclosed spaces

The decision about face coverings was taken in line with scientific advice

THE Stormont executive has now recommended wearing face coverings in enclosed spaces, ahead of a plan for easing lockdown restrictions next week.

Covering your face is advised in places where there are difficulties social distancing, although it will not be mandatory.

There were no further details but health minister Robin Swann indicated it will "largely relate to public transport and retail environments".

Ministers met for more than three hours when it was hoped that a phased plan for relaxing lockdown rules would be agreed.

However, First Minister Arlene Foster warned that the north's coronavirus infection rate is still too high.

She said a "road map to recovery" would be published early next week but there may be only be "minor" adjustments initially.

Deputy first minister Michelle O'Neill said she knew people would be disappointed by the announcement but the region is still on a "knife-edge" in efforts to suppress the virus.

Mrs Foster said the executive had agreed that the public should consider using face coverings in some situations.

This was based on scientific advice which "has concluded there is enough evidence to support the recommendation of community use of cloth face masks for short periods in enclosed spaces where social distancing is not possible".

This relates to face coverings which are "often homemade or natural clothing items" rather than face masks for clinical settings.

Mr Swann later said their use will not be mandatory.

"While evidence on the overall protection provided by face coverings is not conclusive, on balance it is sufficient to recommend that members of the public consider using them in particular circumstances," he said.

"In practice, these circumstances will largely relate to public transport and retail environments.

"Crucially, face coverings must not lead to any false sense of security about the level of protection provided."

Meanwhile, the Republic's health minister said a contact tracing app may be made available to people in Northern Ireland.

Concern had been expressed that the use of different technologies by the British and Irish governments could lead to problems in border areas.

Simon Harris said he has had a number of engagements with Mr Swann and the first and deputy first ministers in recent weeks and "we want an all-island approach and we are working very hard to do that".

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Northern Ireland news