Northern Ireland news

Stormont executive to consider mandatory face coverings in shops

Robin Swann supports the mandatory wearing of face coverings in shops. Picture by Kelvin Boyes/PA Wire

STORMONT Health Minister Robin Swann will today urge his executive colleagues to support the mandatory wearing of face coverings in enclosed public spaces.

Ministers will meet to discuss Mr Swann's proposal amid opposition from some retail groups to a policy of compulsory masks in shops.

Retail NI and Belfast Chamber, whose chief executive is former DUP minister Simon Hamilton, have both voiced concerns about mandatory face coverings.

The executive introduced the mandatory wearing of face coverings to reduce the spread of Covid-19 on public transport earlier this month.

The Scottish government introduced a policy of compulsory face coverings in shops on July 10 with a £60 on-the-spot fine for those who fail to comply.

It was unclear last night whether the executive unanimously supports measures that would make the wearing of wear masks mandatory.

Alliance justice minister Naomi Long told The Irish News: "I think at the very least (it should be) strongly recommended.

Mr Swann signalled at the weekend that he was supportive of mandatory measures.

He said the executive needed to do "everything possible" to encourage the wearing of face coverings in retail stores and other indoor spaces where people were not eating, drinking or exercising.

Chief medical officer Dr Michael McBride and chief scientific adviser Professor Ian Young agreed with the recommendation, the minister said.

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

In a joint statement yesterday, Retail NI and Belfast Chamber said the groups had concerns that the mandatory wearing of masks "could adversely affect trade and generate serious issues around enforcement".

"Slowly but surely our high streets and city centres are beginning to recover so it is essential that we ensure that nothing is done which would discourage shoppers from returning to them," they said.

The executive is also expected to discuss quarantine measures for people travelling from overseas.

On Monday, Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill called for quarantine restrictions on people travelling to the north from Britain.

She said she would be asking the executive to impose the 14-day self-isolation period.

Her remarks came as the Dublin government did not include Britain on its 'green list' of countries whose visitors will be exempt from quarantine controls.

The DUP rejected Ms O'Neill's call and accused her of "playing politics".

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