UPDATE AS OF 15:54 21/10/2022: Several hours after this article’s publication the Department of Health emailed Gript with a response to our query. That response is published in full at the bottom of this article – the rest of the piece remains unchanged, as it was when initially posted:
On Tuesday this week, Gript Media pressed Health Minister Stephen Donnelly on the effectiveness of Covid-19 facemasks.
The question was asked on foot of the Minister’s statement last week, wherein he indicated that Ireland may bring back mandatory masking this winter if there is a spike in Covid-19.
Mask wearing on public transport and in health settings might be mandatory again if there is a Covid wave this winter the Cabinet has heard this morninghttps://t.co/yRw7AHSU0n
— RTÉ News (@rtenews) October 11, 2022
In light of this, the Minister was asked if he could produce any real-world evidence that masks significantly reduce the spread of Covid-19.
"Can you name a study?": Irish Health Minister Stephen Donnelly pressed on the effectiveness of face masks, as he floats the idea of reintroducing them this winter.https://t.co/MWPibuFRaN pic.twitter.com/lfF3wr9RTm
— gript (@griptmedia) October 18, 2022
“The public health advice I have is unambiguous on the use of masks,” he replied.
“Masks are important. We have public health advice in place right now. They do work, they do save lives. And they have been an incredibly important part of our response to the pandemic.”
When asked again what real-world data he had to support this view, Donnelly replied: “I mean, there’s oodles of data. There’s data all over the world. There is no serious argument being had in the medical community about whether face masks are an important public health measure.”
When asked a third time if he could name a real-world study showing the effectiveness of masks, he simply said “I will ask the Chief Medical Officer to send you any number of studies to that effect, yes. No problem at all.”
However, to date Gript has received no such data or studies – even after two emails to the Department of Health and two emails to the Minister’s personal office requesting the material to be sent on.
Following the second email to the Department, they replied on Thursday saying that the material would be send “in due course.” However, they did not elaborate further.
Donnelly’s office did not respond at all.
DEPARTMENT OF HEALTH RESPONSE (RECEIVED AFTER PUBLICATION):
Please see below in response to your query.
International expert advice and guidance in relation to face masks continues to be that face masks can help reduce the spread of COVID-19 in the community as a complementary non-pharmaceutical intervention to other measures.
Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, public health advice has been informed by the epidemiological status of the disease, modelling projections, international advice and guidance, evolving evidence and practice both nationally and internationally, and the overarching priority of limiting the impact on public health and, in particular, protecting the following three core priorities:
- the protection of the most vulnerable;
- the continued provision of non-COVID health and social care services; and
- the need to protect the ongoing delivery of education and childcare.
Our approach has also been guided by core ethical principles: a duty to provide care, equity, solidarity, fairness, minimising harm, proportionality, reciprocity, and privacy. The Department of Health’s ‘Ethical Framework for Decision Making in a Pandemic’ is available to read here.
The NPHET for COVID-19 gave due consideration to face masks throughout the pandemic, specifically on the following dates:
- 14th May, 14th July, 1st October, 17th and 25th November 2020;
- 8th April, 25th August, 18th October, 11th November, 25th November, 2nd December 2021; and
- 20th January and 17th February 2022.
The NPHET’s recommendations to the Minister for Health have been published on the Department of Health website: here.
Agendas, minutes, and meeting papers from meetings of the NPHET have also been published on the Department of Health website here
You will note from the NPHET’s minutes and recommendations that the following publications were considered in particular by NPHET Members in providing their advice to the Minister for Health and Government:
- World Health Organization – Advice on the use of masks in the context of COVID-19: interim guidance, 5th June 2020, available here,
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – Infection prevention and control for COVID-19 in healthcare settings – first update 12th March 2020, available here
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic: increased transmission in the EU/EEA and the UK – seventh update, 25th March 2020, available here
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – Using face masks in the community: first update Effectiveness in reducing transmission of COVID-19, 15th February 2021, available here
- European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control – Assessing SARS-CoV-2 circulation, variants of concern, non-pharmaceutical interventions, and vaccine rollout on the EU/EEA, 15th Update, 10th June 2021, available here
- HIQA – Evidence summary for face mask use by health people in the community, 21st August 2020, available here.
- HIQA – A rapid evidence update on face mask use by health people in the community to reduce SAR-CoV-2 transmission, 25th November 2020, available here.
- HIQA – Advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) to reduce the transition of SARS-CoV-2, 25th November 2020, available here.
- HIQA – Face masks and physical distancing to limit the spread of SARS-CoV-2: An International review, 23rd June 2021, available here
- HIQA – Advice to the National Public Health Emergency Team: Reduction of the minimum age for the application of mask wearing requirements and recommendations – Updated advice, 24th August 2021, available here.
At present mask wearing is advised on public transport and in healthcare settings. Mask wearing is also advised based on individual risk assessment. Anyone who wishes to wear a mask should not be discouraged from doing so. Individuals who are vulnerable to COVID-19 are further advised to be aware of the risk associated with activities they may choose to engage in and to take measures to optimally protect themselves. Vulnerable individuals are advised to consider wearing masks in crowded indoor settings, such as may relate, for example, to social gatherings or other activities and events. This advice continues to be informed by WHO and European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) guidance, available at the following links:
CDC guidance on masks and evidence summary are available at the following links:
An Roinn Sláinte
Department of Health