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Plans to force shops and supermarkets to provide masks in bid to reopen economy

  • But childcare remains a 'huge issue' as sector faces closures

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Staff and customers wearing masks at an Aldi store. Photo: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Staff and customers wearing masks at an Aldi store. Photo: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

REUTERS

Staff and customers wearing masks at an Aldi store. Photo: Wolfgang Rattay/Reuters

Major retail outlets will be asked to give customers face masks under Government plans to reopen the country.

Guidelines for the public on using face masks or coverings are still being drafted by health officials.

However, it has emerged plans for reopening the economy may involve large supermarket chains and department stores being asked to provide their customers with face masks.

There are no plans to make face masks mandatory, but businesses may be asked to provide them to help limit the spread of the virus, according to senior figures in the Department of Health.

Masks

"We are looking at asking large retailers to provide some form of disposable face masks for customers," a source said.

There are currently no standard Covid-19 hygiene regulations for retailers. However, some have been offering gloves and disinfectant to customers.

Separately, the Department of Business, Enterprise and Innovation is drafting national guidance for employers and employees to help the country get back to work.

The plan covers areas such as hand and respiratory hygiene, physical distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE) and the role of the worker.

The draft plan does not insist that retailers provide customers with face masks.

Separately, a childcare shortage looms as creches close down and others will not reopen after the Covid-19 crisis.

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Katherine Zappone. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Katherine Zappone. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Katherine Zappone. Photo: Gareth Chaney/Collins

Children's Minister Katherine Zappone said the Government is doing all it can to avoid widespread closures.

However, in an internal department briefing document, she warns that capacity will be lost in the sector due the coronavirus crisis.

Ms Zappone said the current crisis is a blow to parents, providers, educators and children who use early year and education services.

She said the wage subsidy scheme that had been set up for the sector - although complex, rigid and far from perfect - tried to deliver something unique for the sector.

In the document drawn up last week, she also said that although a lot had been done to improve the childcare sector, a lot more remained.

Childcare for health workers has been a contentious issue in recent weeks.

Meanwhile, many parents who work in other sectors have been left wondering how the economy can be reopened without functioning childcare.

Private sector workers will not be entitled to pay if they do not turn up for work because they have no childcare when Covid-19 restrictions are lifted.

Parents may face a very harsh economic landscape as the lockdown ends if they have to return to work before creches and schools have reopened.

Employment solicitor Richard Grogan said the issue of childcare and the return to work is likely to pose a huge problem for private sector workers in the months ahead.

"There is a really serious issue that nobody has addressed," he said.

"It's very simple. You are either an essential service or a business that's reopening that's not an essential service. The employer says, 'we are open for business', and the employee says, 'I can't come to work because I don't have anybody to mind my child, I'm afraid to get on the bus, or I would prefer to work remotely'.

"The position is, you don't turn up to work, you don't get paid."

He said without childcare supports it will mainly be younger women who may end up being dismissed and they will not be entitled to redundancy payments.

Mr Grogan said a worker in this situation would have to wait longer to qualify for welfare payments as they had made themselves unemployed.

Conundrum

"Some businesses may offer unpaid leave, but that's only likely to last for a week or two. A lot are not going to hold jobs open forever," he said.

He added that this scenario is unlikely to happen in the public service, where he believes staff in this predicament will remain on full pay.

Chief executive of business group ISME Neil McDonnell said it will be a conundrum for businesses and employees if childcare and the return to work do not go hand in hand.

He said employers may try to keep jobs open as long as possible but are unlikely to be paid.