It would be a mistake to "abandon the mask mandate" at this point of the COVID-19 pandemic, a People Before Profit TD has said.
Paul Murphy believes NPHET's recommendation to end mandatory mask-wearing in most settings is putting workers and vulnerable people at risk.
He was speaking after it emerged this afternoon that NPHET has recommended to the Government that the legal requirement to wear masks in the likes of shops, schools and public transport should end from the end of the month.
Chief Medical Officer Dr Tony Holohan is also proposing NPHET be disbanded.
Ministers are expected to meet next week to decide whether to sign off on NPHET's recommendations.
"No surprises" in the NPHET letter from what I'm told. Health officials indicate the wearing of masks in schools, shops and on public transport can end. May also have been the last NPHET meeting
— Seán Defoe (@SeanDefoe) February 17, 2022
While some have welcomed the news that mandatory mask-wearing could soon end, others have expressed concern about the move.
One of those people is Deputy Murphy, and he spoke to The Hard Shoulder about why he believes NPHET has made the wrong call.
He said: “I think it’s a mistake to abandon the mask mandate at this point.
“It’s putting workers at risk. It’s saying to vulnerable people ‘you’re going to be significantly more at risk now’. It’s ignoring the very significant rise in hospitalisations among children with COVID.”
217 toddlers (0-4 year olds) are in hospital today with Covid.
500 children (under 14) have been hospitalised with Covid so far this year.
While Omicron has not been as bad as feared, and vaccines are helping, Covid hasn't gone away. Caution, masks, ventilation still important. pic.twitter.com/HKftwjqNNu
— Paul Murphy 🏳️⚧️ (@paulmurphy_TD) February 16, 2022
Challenged by Kieran on whether those children are being hospitalised for reasons other than COVID, Deputy Murphy said the “data isn’t there” to say how many cases among children are incidental.
He also noted that children remain a largely unvaccinated section of the population.
'It hasn't gone away'
The Dublin South West TD said that while the Omicron variant hasn't been as bad as initially feared, "it’s still bad and it’s still serious".
He said: Over 400 people have died with COVID in 2022 alone. We all wish this could just go away by saying it’s gone… but it hasn’t.
“Relatively speaking, the imposition on someone to wear a mask on public transport or in retail is relatively low compared to the protection it provides - and not just for [the wearer].
“In wearing masks, we provide protection for each other as well as for ourselves. If you just have a free-for-all… then those who are put in danger are those who are vulnerable and those who have no choice but to be working in those settings.”
Deputy Murphy said he will continue to wear masks and will also encourage others to wear high-quality FFP2 face coverings.
However, he said the Government "sending signals" has a big impact on public behaviour - pointing to the low level of mask-wearing in areas of Britain and the US after rules were eased.
The People Before Profit TD said he believes health officials are “under political pressure” to now get rid of the remaining measures.
He added: “Some people will lose their lives as a consequence of this decision.
"The balance against that is how much is it, really, to ask us to protect workers and other vulnerable people by wearing masks for another couple of months?”