Q&A: Everything you need to know about mandatory face masks

The Government is set to make is compulsory to wear face masks on public transport

Face masks are to become mandatory on public transport as the Government moves to increase capacity on bus, train and Luas services as more people return to work. Here, we run through everything you need to know about wearing face coverings and the new rule.

What do they do and why are they a good idea?

First of all, it’s important to note that wearing face masks does not offer you complete protection against Covid-19 and should not be treated as a substitute for all the other precautions people are supposed to be taking, such as regular hand-washing and social distancing.

Their main function is to help stop you spreading the virus to another person if you are carrying it without your knowledge and moving around in the community.

The virus is spread through cough or sneeze droplets so by covering your mouth and nose you reduce the odds of spreading the virus.


Why is this being made mandatory all of a sudden?

The Government has insisted masks will become more important as coronavirus restrictions are lifted. The two-metre social distancing rule for public transport operators will soon cease to apply and, instead, operators will be allowed to run at 50 per cent capacity.

This means there will be more people using buses, trains and trams and so the risk of spreading the virus is greater.

Fair enough. When does this new measure come into effect?

The issue was discussed at a Cabinet sub-committee meeting on Wednesday and it is expected the mandatory mask rule will take effect in the next week or two.

Okay, where can I get one then?

Masks can be picked up in any pharmacy, or you can also order them online.

How much do they cost?

You can buy disposable masks for less than a euro, or you can buy reusable masks, made of cloth, for less than €5.

Alternatively, if you want to go upmarket with a designer face mask, various companies offer masks with different designs and creations. Prices vary but you can pick up a pack of three for about €20 in Boots.

Seems reasonable enough. So how do you wear them?

Firstly, avoid touching the mask itself and use the loops to fit it. Make sure it covers the nose and goes under the chin. It should also fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face and be secured with ties or ear loops. Avoid touching the mask while using it and, if you do, wash your hands.

How do you take them on and off safely?

You should clean your hands with soap and water beforehand. Then, take it off using the elastic tags without touching the front.

Will I need a new mask every day?

The disposable masks are designed for single use and should be disposed of afterwards in a bin. The reusable masks can be used about 50 times but should be washed after each use. The advice is to put reusable masks straight into the washing machine after use.

Is there any advice on how to wash them?

Yes. They need a hot wash over 60 degrees with detergent. If using a washing machine, you should be able to wash and machine dry it without damage or change to the shape. You do not need to sterilise it. You can also wash it by hand.

Seems straightforward enough. When will I know to throw it out?

You should throw out a cloth face covering when it no longer covers the nose and mouth; has stretched out or damaged ties or straps; cannot stay on the face; or has holes or tears in the fabric.

Are there any exceptions to wearing them?

Cloth face coverings are not suitable for children under the age of 13 and anyone who has trouble breathing; is unconscious or incapacitated; is unable to remove it without help; has special needs and who may feel upset or very uncomfortable wearing it. Health authorities have instructed people not to stigmatise those who are observed without them.

Where exactly will this be applicable?

The rule will apply to all public transport, so that’s the rail network including the Dart and intercity services, as well as all public bus services, including Dublin Bus, and the Luas. We will have to wait and see whether the Government decides to apply the rule to private bus operators and taxis.

How will this be policed?

The truth is we don’t really know yet. Dermot O’Leary, the general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union, has said this will be a difficult issue, but that it should not be a job a bus driver or frontline worker on the rail network should have to deal with.

“The last thing we want is conflict between drivers and passengers or between passengers,” he said, adding there is a role for the gardaí, the transport companies and the National Transport Authority. However, the gardaí have said they do not comment on proposed regulations so we will have to wait until all this is formalised before we know more.