Tánaiste Leo Varadkar feels that people will continue to wear masks even if the law requiring to wear them will pass in 10 days time.
Varadkar has added that while mask wearing is normal in Asian countries, “it may become the culture here”.
Last week, NPHET agreed for the rule to wear face masks for most areas will be removed. This could see an end to the wearing of face coverings in public transport, schools, taxis, retail premises and public offices.
“in a very different way”
Speaking at a Mid-West regional enterprise plan in Tipperary, Leo Varadkar said that NPHET’s latest news puts Ireland “in a very different place” to where we were at other stages of Covid.
Mr Varadkar also wanted to stress that the “pandemic isn’t over”.
“The positivity rate is still very high and I’m hearing of people I know every single day still testing positive with Covid”, the Fine Gael leader stated. “So we need to recognise that the pandemic isn’t over”.
“However, we’re in a very different place now”, he insisted.
“We’ve built up a very high level of population immunity because of the vaccines and because of the numbers of people that have contracted the virus at this stage and also the Omicron variant is much milder, and that allows us to deal with the pandemic in a very different way, much more in the way that we would have dealt with a flu pandemic for example”.
“very significant changes”
Mr Varadkar also confirmed that a decision will be made over masks “no later than Tuesday”.
“What that means is that we’ll be able to relax rules around testing and also around masks” Varadkar explained.
“I saw the NPHET letter last night which recommends ending the mask mandate and also recommends some very significant changes in testing”.
“I spoke to the Taoiseach about it yesterday and we’ll make a decision on the NPHET advice no later than Tuesday and we’ll be able to give a date then for its implementation”.
However, Varadkar does feel that masks “should still be advised in public healthcare settings and on public transport”.
“But it being mandatory, it being the law will end”, he continued. “I think it’s advice a lot of people will welcome, particularly in relation to schools, but that doesn’t mean that people who want to wear a mask can’t”.
“I know a lot of people who maybe are experiencing mild symptoms into the future, they’ll probably still want to wear a mask to protect others”.
“That’s the culture in asian countries and I think it may become the culture here”.
“People may decide for themselves in crowded settings for themselves, like on a bus or on a train, but it won’t be the law”.
“A very different phase”
Leo Varadkar also added that Ireland is moving to a “very different phase” of the pandemic.
“I should say that NPHET isn’t been stood down just yet, I think in the round that NPHET has provided us with very good advice and very good guidance over the past two years”, he revealed.
He continued, “We didn’t always agree on everything, but most of the time we agreed on the vast majority of things and I want to extend my thanks and appreciation to the members of NPHET and the CMO (Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan) in particular in the years gone by”.
“It’s not being stood down just yet. It will fade away”.