Wearing of face masks to be enforced in shops from August 20
Face mask wearing will be enforced in shops from August 20, amid attempts to prevent a second wave of infection this autumn, the executive agreed last night.
The move brings Northern Ireland in line with the Republic, Scotland and England.
Ministers have agreed that while the wearing will technically be mandatory from August 1, it will not be enforced for almost three weeks while a public awareness campaign take place to encourage "voluntary compliance".
Health Minister Robin Swann said he was "pleased that the executive has supported my recommendation... in line with the expert advice provided to ministers by the Chief Medical Officer and Chief Scientific Adviser".
"The evidence in support of face coverings in shops and other enclosed spaces has become increasingly compelling. It should become second nature to us in the weeks and months ahead. I am confident people will want to do the right thing.
"This is particularly important in light of the fact that shielding is due to be paused from July 31. As people who have been shielding start resuming everyday activities, the wearing of face coverings in shops is a practical way to reassure them and help them keep safe.
"I am also very mindful of the need to protect retail staff."
He said he expects at least 80 per cent compliance before enforcement begins.
The move does not change official advice around social distancing.
Aodhán Connolly, director of the Northern Ireland Retail Consortium, said it supports the measures, but said shopkeepers should not be made to police customers.
"We hope the public take the opportunity to voluntarily use face coverings so that we don't there is no need to make it mandatory on 20th of August. While retailers will play their part in communicating the new rules on face masks, they must not be the ones enforcing these rules.
"With hundreds of incidents of violence and abuse directed at retail staff every day, we welcome the announcement that enforcement will be left to the authorities, rather than potentially putting hardworking retail colleagues in harm’s way.
"We look forward to further clarity over whether the wearing of face coverings will apply to shop staff. If so, there must be flexibility for colleagues who are in stores all day and can already benefit from other safety measures such as protective screens and 2m distancing.
"Retailers have already spent millions of pounds installing perspex screens, implementing social distancing measures and providing additional cleaning in stores; we hope this announcement will make shoppers feel even more confident about returning to the high street."
Meanwhile, First Minister Arlene Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O'Neill are to ask the British and Irish governments to seek alignment between their so-called travel `green lists' to following disputes over how to protect the north from Covid-19 infections being brought back by travellers.
Sinn Féin had been pushing for travellers from Great Britain to be quarantined - a stance rejected by the DUP.
The leaders have asked for a special summit of the British Irish Council to discuss the common travel area and the disparity between the two countries' green lists.
An Executive meeting yesterday also set an provisional date of Monday August 10 for the reopening of indoor pubs and bars which only sell drink to reopen.