Ireland moves to end mask requirements

A woman wearing a face mask carries shopping in Dublin City, Ireland. [EPA-EFE/AIDAN CRAWLEY]

Ireland’s National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) recommended on Thursday that current mask requirements should be removed.

Should NPHET’s proposal be accepted by the government, masks would only be required in healthcare settings. Wearing them would no longer be mandatory for those in customer-facing roles in hospitality or for anyone in schools, shops and other public spaces or on public transport.

Under the new guidelines, mask-wearing would still be recommended in some settings, such as on transport. Taoiseach Micheál Martin recently recommended people should continue wearing facemasks in retail and on transport “for some time yet” even if it was no longer mandated.

The group’s recommendations also propose changes to the national testing system, suggesting that capacity should be directed towards those over the age of 55, clinically vulnerable, and anyone who lives with a person who falls into these categories.

People with COVID-19 symptoms will be advised to isolate, but close contacts will not need a PCR test.

The changes, which would likely come into force at the end of February, have already received substantial political support and their adoption by the government is widely expected.

NPHET was established in 2020 to guide the government’s COVID-19 response and has met regularly throughout the past years to provide advice on health restrictions.

In a sign of the optimism surrounding the pandemic’s direction, Dr Tony Holohan, Ireland’s Chief Medical Officer, indicated that Thursday’s meeting could be the group’s last. According to the Irish Times, COVID-19 management could now be handled via existing government structures.

(Molly Killeen | EURACTIV.com)

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