Mandatory masks would be a “small price to pay” to ease pressure on the health service, Labour's health spokesperson has said.
The Chief Medical Officer has “strongly advised” people to wear masks on public transport and Labour TD Duncan Smith has urged the Government to make them compulsory.
“The Chief Medical Officer has been advising this since Christmas,” he told Newstalk Breakfast. “But we’ve heard nothing from Government in terms of any kind of real strong public health advice related to mask wearing.
“The calls are coming from the workers on the frontline; we have it from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and that’s backed up by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
“We have a health service that is under resourced and is being attacked by what’s been called a ‘tripledemic’ [of flu, COVID and RSV] and I just believe, if we’re being asked in terms of proper public health advice to wear a mask to protect our frontline health workers during the latest crisis, then I think that’s a small price to pay.”
Wearing a mask in shops and on public transport became optional in February 2022 as the acute phase of the pandemic came to an end.
Despite this, Mr Smith said that he had seen a “massive increase in mask wearing over” since Christmas and believes the public would support stronger public health measures from the Government.
“We’ve had two years during the pandemic of pretty strong Government messaging in terms of public health advice,” he said.
“We are not hearing that now… We’ve gone back to the way it used to be and I don’t think that’s good enough in terms of the pressure the health service is under at this particular time.”
Last month, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar ruled out a mask mandate but said he hoped people would wear one anyway.
“As things stand, we don’t have any proposals to reintroduce a mask mandate,” Mr Varadkar told journalists.
“But we are encouraging people to use masks in crowd settings - particularly, for example, on public transport.
“[We’re] very much saying to people that if you have respiratory symptoms, you should stay at home until they are resolved and also really encouraging people who haven’t taken the flu or COVID vaccine to do so.”
Main image: Members of the public wearing face masks as they board a bus in Dublin city centre in February 2022. Image: Leah Farrell / RollingNews.ie