Top Cork scientist hits out at Government policy on face masks 

Top Cork scientist hits out at Government policy on face masks 
A pedestrian wearing a face mask in Cork city.Picture Denis Minihane.

A LEADING Cork scientist is calling for the wearing of face masks to be made obligatory for children in playgrounds, and for all people on public transport, in shopping centres, and on busy streets.

Professor Gerry Killeen, the AXA Research Chair in Applied Pathogen Ecology at University College Cork, said Ireland needs to copy Hong Kong, where 97% of people are wearing face masks.

He said face masks could have saved lives in recent months.

“I think there could be a lot of people still with us today if we had acted sooner,” he said.

The Cork-based scientist explained that, when people speak, they release droplets from their mouths which could contain the virus.

He said that wearing a mask is a way for the person wearing it to protect others from being exposed to it.

“They should be obligatory on the bus, on trains, on crowded streets, in shopping centres,” he said.

A pedestrian wearing a face mask while shopping in Cork city.Picture Denis Minihane.
A pedestrian wearing a face mask while shopping in Cork city.Picture Denis Minihane.

The UCC professor said he believed that children returning to playgrounds should also be wearing masks, and said they too could expose others to the virus when speaking.

“Children don’t go to the playground to be quiet, and they are just as susceptible to infection,” he added.

Prof Killeen recently arrived in Cork after living in Tanzania for 17 years where he has studied viruses like malaria, dengue fever, and zika.

He was one of 1,000 academics and scientists from across Ireland who signed a letter to the Government calling for lockdown measures to be extended in recent days.

He described the current phased plan as a recipe for disaster.

“The virus defines the rules of the game for all of us and it hasn’t gone away, there’s still too much of it around,” he said.

Meanwhile, Fianna Fáil leader and Cork South Central TD Micheál Martin told the Dáil yesterday that “it is long past time to require masks in various settings”.

He described how both the World Health Organization and the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control have said that masks should be worn on public transport, in shops, and similar settings.

“There is no evidence of masks causing harm and mounting evidence of them preventing the spread of the virus,” he said.

“This is because the masks both physically limit the virus and crucially also encourage greater awareness of proper behaviour,” he added.

The Fianna Fáil leader said he also believed that the message on masks “has not been clear enough up to now”.

A bus driver wearing a face mask at Patrick Street, Cork.  Picture Dan Linehan
A bus driver wearing a face mask at Patrick Street, Cork.  Picture Dan Linehan

Health Minister Simon Harris addressed the Dáil on the issue and said there was clear public health advice that masks should be worn on public transport and in enclosed indoor spaces such as shops.

“We will be launching a further public awareness campaign on this very shortly,” he said.

The health minister added: “I accept that the evidence and maybe even the messaging on this has changed over time and perhaps it’s been confusing for people and perhaps it hasn’t gotten through in the clear way it needs to so, let’s be very clear, starting from today, very, very clear, face coverings are recommended.

“You should wear one on public transport, you should wear one in shops and in other enclosed areas unless you have a medical reason not to, or you are under the age of 13.”

The National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) also met to discuss the subject.

Last night, Dr Tony Holohan, the chief medical officer, said that there was no change to the advice on face coverings, but that there may be a need to “redouble” efforts to get the message across that face coverings should be worn on public transport and in retail settings.

“NPHET has recommended the development and implementation of a national communications campaign to increase compliance with current recommendations on the use of face-coverings.

“The campaign will outline best practice for use of face coverings in retail outlets, on public transport, and in other public locations, where it may be difficult to maintain social distancing,” he said.

He said however that there was continuing concern about the belief that wearing face masks could remove the need for other measures such as handwashing.

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