Arlene Foster unconvinced of medical case for face masks in public

Stormont’s First Minister has described the medical case for using face coverings in public during the coronavirus epidemic as “pretty weak”.

But Arlene Foster said they could potentially provide added reassurance to people venturing out when restrictions on movement being to ease.

Mrs Foster and Deputy First Minister Michelle O’Neill said the executive is due to hold further discussions on whether they should issue an official advisory notice on the use of face coverings.

Mrs Foster said if an advisory was issued it would be important to stress that healthcare grade masks should be reserved for frontline workers.

Ms O’Neill said the executive would examine the issue again when it came time to start easing restrictions on movement.

Earlier this week the Scottish government issued guidance for people to shield their faces in places such as shops and on public transport.

“I think the scientific evidence in relation to masks is pretty weak in relation to does it help stop the spread of the disease and keep the reproductive figure below one,” said Mrs Foster.

“It may be the case that people feel more comfortable wearing masks if they’re out and about and if that is the case that’s of course is a matter for them.


“But then you have to think about what sort of a mask is it, is it a face covering, and if it is face covering in the form of a scarf what happens to that scarf when you take it off?

“How do you dispose of it? How do you clean it? All of those things have to be thought through.

“So we’ll have a further conversation about the mask issue but definitely we do not want to take away from those people who need PPE in the setting of a hospital or a care home.

“If we are to say that there is an advisory in relation to masks it will be mask that aren’t used in that sort of a setting.”

Ms O’Neill noted Health Minister Robin Swann’s remarks earlier in the week, when he expressed concern that masks could create a “false sense of security” with the wearer.

“We continue to keep that under review and certainly some of our thinking has been if it gives perhaps a sense of confidence to people whenever we are at the stage when we can move around more then perhaps as an aid to do that there may be some scope for it,” she said.

“We’ll certainly come back to the conversation around face coverings, does that give some assurance and comfort to people when we are at the stage when people are moving around more.”