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'We expect most will comply' - €2.5k fines or jail for shoppers without face masks

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Dr Ronan Glynn, Acting Chief Medical Officer. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Dr Ronan Glynn, Acting Chief Medical Officer. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Colin Keegan

Dr Ronan Glynn, Acting Chief Medical Officer. Photo: Colin Keegan/Collins Dublin

Shoppers are facing fines of up to €2,500 and a prison stint if they breach new rules on wearing face coverings from today.

With the number of Covid-19 cases rising by 68 yesterday, Dr Ronan Glynn the Acting Chief Medical Officer with the Department of Health said that from today, "face coverings will be mandatory in retail and other indoor settings like hairdressers, cinemas and museums.

"We know that most people are already wearing face coverings and we hope to see even greater uptake over the coming days," he said.

He was speaking as figures showed that of the 68 new cases notified yesterday, 19 were located in Kildare, 17 in Dublin, 15 in Offaly, 12 in Laois and five in Donegal.

However, there were no new deaths reported to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

Successful

In relation to face masks, the Department of Health told the Herald yesterday: "To date there has been a very high level of buy-in from the public with the necessary public health measures and there hasn't been a need for high levels of enforcement.

"The vast majority of people are already wearing face coverings in shops," a spokesperson said. "To date, gardaí have adopted an approach of engaging with the public to educate and encourage people to abide by the measure in place.

"That has proved to be very successful and they will continue that approach.

"As a very last port of call, gardaí can be called but the hope is that will not arise and experience to date has been that the public are reading to comply with the health measures.

"The penalty for not wearing a face covering is €2,500 and/or six months in prison, but the expectation is that the vast majority of customers will comply and that penalties would only need to be imposed in very rare cases."

It is believed there will be exemptions similar to those outlined in the rules for public transport for certain people who cannot wear a face covering due to medical or physical reasons.

Meanwhile, Retail Ireland Director Arnold Dillon told the Herald: "Retailers are happy to do their bit to support any public health measures, and obviously the safety and health of our staff and customers is obviously the primary concern.

"Over the course of this crisis, retail has been at the forefront in terms of transforming how the businesses have been run to try and make sure that customers are safe and they have those assurances.

"Retailers will be happy to encourage the use of face coverings and they are already taking steps to do that and to make sure that their staff are also compliant.

"We expect the vast majority of the public to be supportive of these measures."

However, he said there is a concern that in a limited number of cases, retail workers shouldn't be at the coalface of any disputes that might arise because of the new regulations.

"While I think retailers are happy to play a part in encouraging it, enforcement should be a matter for the authorities," he said.

"We don't expect compliance to be a massive issue. Even since the intention to make it mandatory was announced, there has been a massive increase in the use of face coverings in retail settings.

"Of course there will be those people who won't be able to wear the masks, and that is why it is important there is some sensitivity around how these things can be policed.

Factories

"I think we have already seen over recent weeks that the uptake has been very significant. We expect that to be more so when the regulations come in."

Meanwhile, contact tracing and testing will be ramped up in food processing factories across the country to prevent further Covid-19 outbreaks, HSE chief executive Paul Reid said.

He said testing and tracing is effective in identifying where outbreaks are emerging, but it is up to individuals and organisations to follow health advice.

"One thing which has proven well in this instance has been our testing and tracing," he told Newstalk's Off The Record.

"It's not a silver bullet, and it can't prevent outbreaks from happening.

"The first line of defence in all scenarios, public health measures that individuals can take, and that organisation take around infection prevention and control, so that was the first line of defence for all of us against this."