Concerns raised about potential conflict over mask wearing as rule is to be considered

Concerns Raised About Potential Conflict Over Mask Wearing As Rule Is To Be Considered
Retail Excellence, which is the largest representative body for the retail industry in Ireland, has said the lifting of the rule would be "another welcome return to normality". Photo: PA Images
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Vivienne Clarke

Professor of Immunology, Paul Moynagh has said that “now is as good as it’s going to get” with regard to cases of Omicron and that it was time to halt mandatory wearing of masks.

It comes as the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) could recommend an end to the requirement for face masks, with the group due to meet on Thursday to discuss the latest Covid-19 data.


Prof Moynagh told Newstalk Breakfast that there was now a level of immunity in the population because of vaccination and that the Omicron variant was less severe and the high numbers were not translating into high hospital numbers or severe illness.

“There will be new variants. If we don’t lift mask restrictions now, when will we lift them?”

Masks did have a benefit, but Omicron was very difficult to control, he said. Some people would continue to wear masks and carry on antigen tests as there was a move towards “personal evaluation of risk”.

However, he said he hoped there would not be conflict in workplaces between colleagues who had differing opinions on mask wearing in the workplace.


That fear was also voiced by the general secretary of the National Bus and Railworkers Union (NBRU), Dermot O’Leary who said his members were concerned there could be conflict between passengers over the wearing of masks.

Speaking on RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland, Mr O’Leary said his union had led the campaign to have masks be made mandatory on public transport.

It was only three weeks since there had been a return to 100 per cent of capacity on transport, so his members were concerned that it was “rushing” to remove the mandatory rule on masks on public transport.

“Maybe at the end of March”, he said, agreeing with a suggestion by Prof Christine Loscher that it would be better to wait until the weather was better and seasonal factors did not have an impact on the virus.


'Very difficult'

Infectious diseases' consultant Dr Cliona Ní Cheallaigh has said she would “suggest very strongly” that people continue to wear masks.

“There's still an awful lot of Covid circulating around, so I think if you don't want to get Covid I would suggest very strongly that you continue to wear your masks,” she told RTÉ radio’s Morning Ireland.

Dr Ní Cheallaigh said that “unfortunately” the vaccine did not offer 100 per cent protection and that recent high case numbers were likely due to people with compromised immune systems being infected with Covid-19.

Pregnant women were particularly vulnerable to infection, she warned.


“If there's one group I really implore to get vaccinated, it's pregnant women.

“Pregnant women do not do well with Covid, so they're still ending up in intensive care and sometimes their babies, and you know, are dying that their pregnancies you know don't go to term, which is very, very difficult.”

Retail environments

Although the NBRU has expressed concern over the lifting of mandatory mask wearing too early, Retail Excellence has said it would welcome the move.

Retail Excellence, which is the largest representative body for the retail industry in Ireland, has said the lifting of the rule would be "another welcome return to normality".


Commenting on the prospect, Duncan Graham, managing director of Retail Excellence, said: “If media reports are correct, and we do see this law removed, it would be another welcome return to normality after the last two years.

“The physical shopping experience shouldn’t be transactional, it’s about energising the senses and, as such, the further removal of restrictions would be a good thing.

“What works for some people will not work for others, and it is important above all else that people feel good in shops, whether that’s staff or shoppers themselves.

“If this law is removed, I certainly don’t expect – or would want – it to signal the end of face-masks as a whole.

“It’s been a long, hard couple of years for retail, but Irish people have a love affair with shopping which has stood the ultimate test since the emergence of the pandemic.

“It will be great for shoppers and staff to see smiles on faces again.”

Also speaking on Morning Ireland, Fr Tim Hazelwood, Parish Priest of Killeagh in east Cork, said he was not sure that people were mentally and emotionally ready for the easing of restrictions.

There were a number of his parishioners who would continue to stay away from the church out of fear and watch online instead.

Large crowds still frightened some people and there was still a lot of fear around weddings and funerals, which have been associated with large outbreaks in the past.

He said that he would not be comfortable putting ashes on people’s foreheads on Ash Wednesday in a few week’s time.

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