Government considers making face masks ‘a condition of travel’ on public transport

Two-week quarantine for those coming into Republic could be relaxed on June 29th

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would prefer to rely on the willingness of Irish people to comply with guidelines on masks rather than to go into a situation where people were being ordered to comply. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said he would prefer to rely on the willingness of Irish people to comply with guidelines on masks rather than to go into a situation where people were being ordered to comply. Photograph: Brian Lawless/PA Wire

 

The Government is exploring the possibility of making face masks compulsory on public transport.

Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said on Friday that work is being done to see if wearing masks can be “a condition of travel on public transport”.

He said that achieving that was not entirely straightforward as there were public transport bylaws, health laws and other considerations.

He said there were pluses and minuses to making the wearing of masks mandatory. He said they were not suitable for children under 13, or those with breathing difficulties, or for some with disabilities.

He said the Government had given very strong advice they should be worn in places with restricted space and on public transport. He said he would prefer to rely on the willingness of Irish people to comply with guidelines rather than to go into a situation where people were being ordered to comply.

“I really don’t want to be into a position where we are fining or prosecuting people for not wearing face masks.

“We ask people to follow public health advice.

“What we are saying to people is do not get into that space [where non-compliance leads to laws on face masks].

“If you are on public transport wear a mask for face covering,” he said.

Leo Varadkar has previously raised the prospect of opening up air corridors or air bridges, which would effectively allow Irish people to go on foreign holidays to certain countries. File photograph: Kate Geraghty
Leo Varadkar has previously raised the prospect of opening up air corridors or air bridges, which would effectively allow Irish people to go on foreign holidays to certain countries. File photograph: Kate Geraghty

The Cabinet is also considering partially lifting the 14-day quarantine period for people arriving into Ireland from countries where the coronavirus is under control on June 29th.

Mr Varadkar has previously raised the prospect of opening up such air corridors or air bridges, which would effectively allow Irish people to go on foreign holidays to certain countries.

It is understood the initial phase would only apply to European Union countries.

While a decision was not expected to be taken by the Cabinet during its meeting on Friday, it is understood a memo to the meeting envisaged the quarantine period for such countries would be dropped when Phase 3 of the Covid-19 restrictions starts on June 29th.

On Thursday, Mr Varadkar said Ireland might be almost fully open by the middle of July, rather than the middle of August. He told the Dáil the positivity rate in tests for coronavirus was less than 1 per cent, down from a peak of 20 per cent.

Progress in fighting the virus, which has claimed more than 1,700 lives in Ireland, has prompted the Government to bring forward the easing of restrictions. A new roadmap for easing restrictions was announced last Friday.

Nursing home visits

Earlier on Friday, chief medical officer Dr Tony Holohan said people might be able to visit relatives in nursing homes from next week.

Nursing homes have been given guidance and advice on allowing visitors and should be in a position to implement that advice from next week he told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

The scale of deaths in care home settings in the Republic was at the lower end when compared with the experience of other European countries, he said, adding Ireland was being compared with countries that had not reported Covid-19 deaths as comprehensively.

Dr Holohan also said the clarity of communication on the wearing of face coverings needed to be stepped up. A campaign was being unveiled to advise the public on the importance of wearing face coverings on public transport, in shops and in places where physical distancing was difficult to maintain.

To date, there had been a very high level of compliance by the public, and the virus had been suppressed, but face coverings were just one measure on which there should be more focus, he said.

There had been a decrease in the level of transmission with each person who was infected passing it on to fewer people, he added.

If there was a resurgence of the virus, Dr Holohan said he would not propose restrictions like those introduced in March because comparisons could be made by looking at the experiences of other countries and the population’s behaviour. “We would know what specific measures to take.”

As other countries had eased restrictions, there had been downward trends of rates of transmission across most European countries, he added.

Earlier on Newstalk Breakfast, Dr Holohan had warned that people should not become complacent while wearing face masks.

“One of things we do have concern about is that if people feel if they wear a mask, it’s a little bit like a hurling helmet – are you going to put yourself in more danger when you have a helmet on because you feel a little bit more invincible.”

He said it was important people did not think like that. Face masks were an added measure on top of other measures that were important such as hand hygiene and physical distancing.

Dr Holohan said that when he visited his local Dunnes Stores he wore a face mask. “I don’t particularly like doing it myself, if I’m very honest with you.”

On the issue of working from home, Dr Holohan urged anyone who can work from home to continue to do so. “People shouldn’t drift back to work on the basis that they’re now coming back to the office because the risk of this has receded.

“They need to work from home where possible – but we know that [in] some work places that that isn’t possible, and that other measures have to be taken to try and provide protection for people in work place settings.”

Ireland has “almost zero” new cases of Covid-19 and all indicators of the disease are either stable or declining, three weeks into the easing of restrictions, public-health officials have said.

Vowing to “go as low as we possibly can” towards eliminating the disease, Dr Holohan said he did not believe there were hidden clusters “out there”, separate from the small number of daily cases now being reported.

The National Public Health Emergency Team will meet next Thursday to finalise advice to Government on the “rephasing” of the easing of restrictions.

Its recommendations are expected to provide further clarity on a variety of issues, including a possible easing of the two-metre social-distancing rule, the reopening of hairdressers, rules around weddings and the reopening of the offshore islands.