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NPHET: Scrap mandatory masks in retail, education and on public transport

NPHET has told the Government that masks should now be made optional in retail, in education and on public transport. 

It is understood that Tony Holohan also told NPHET members that today may be their last meeting – as he has submitted measures in a letter to Stephen Donnelly for overhauling the national response. According to Virgin Media News, the meeting on Thursday ended without setting a date to meet again. 

The current agreement is that masks are required in most areas where currently regulated. If the Government accepts NPHET’s advice, it would mean mandated mask wearing will no longer apply in schools, on public transport, in taxis, in retail premises and in public offices. 

Mask wearing would no longer apply for staff in customer facing roles, including restaurants and pubs. Mask wearing would however still be required in healthcare settings, such as nursing homes and in hospitals.

The Cabinet is likely to consider the advice when it holds its weekly meeting next Tuesday, a Government spokesperson tonight said. Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly would subsequently sign the necessary regulations to give effect to the changes after the Cabinet meeting. 

The recommendations would be first discussed by the Government party leaders and Minister Donnelly prior to a memo being sent to Cabinet. It is widely believed that the changes advised by NPHET will be both accepted and welcomed. 

Senior figures in the Government have indicated that because of the fact it is advocating a widespread lifting of almost all the remaining restrictions suggests the recommendation will be accepted swiftly and without the need for extensive debate.

Minister Eamon Ryan spoke in the Dáil today of his preference for “the immediate” lifting of the ban. The Minister for the Environment also said the requirement for children to wear face masks should be removed immediately, and he added he hopes it can be done “straight away.”

Meanwhile, People before Profit TD Paul Murphy blasted the advice. Taking to Twitter, he wrote: “Very disappointing to see NPHET recommend that mask wearing in schools becomes optional. The workers in those settings have no option about whether they go to work. Their unions have been clear that they wanted masks to continue.”

His comments are out of line with his previous long-standing support of NPHET advice throughout the Covid crisis. In December, he criticised Alan Kelly TD, stating: “Alan Kelly declaring “science works in the Dail – while he worked consistently to undermine the public health advice of scientists in NPHET.”

Schoolchildren could also see the long-awaited end of the requirement to wear face masks as early as next week, reports state. The Government along with its public health advisors have indicated that the requirement to wear masks in schools would be reviewed before the end of February. It comes as Independent TD Mattie McGrath presented a 14,000 strong petition from parents demanding the end of face masks in schools.

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