By David Young and Cate McCurry, PA
Laws that would allow for the reintroduction of mask-wearing in Ireland are set to be drafted as a precautionary measure.
The move, outlined at Cabinet on Tuesday, is understood to be a preparatory step in case such a public health measure is required in the event of the Covid-19 situation worsening this winter.
It would mandate the wearing of face coverings in designated settings.
There are currently limited legislative powers to protect public health in the event of a significant downturn in the Covid-19 outlook.
Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly was asked by the Cabinet during a meeting on June 14th to prepare a memo regarding a contingency Covid public health bill.
A Government source insisted the work on draft laws by the Department of Health is “purely precautionary”.
The source added there is “no intention” to introduce the legislation in the Dáil ahead of the summer recess.
The draft bill has been described as placing the fewest constraints possible on citizens and businesses while also protecting public health and the vulnerable.
It is understood to be unconnected with current figures, and is “simply a prudent measure to ensure that the Government continues to protect the population and public health from this disease”.
Emergency legislation introduced at the height of the coronavirus pandemic has lapsed, meaning there is no legal basis for reintroducing mask-wearing if the Government wanted to.
Mr Donnelly updated his Cabinet colleagues on the public health situation around Covid-19 and current advice.
He also gave an update on the autumn/winter Covid-19 vaccination programme, plans for Covid-19 therapeutics, the test, trace and surveillance programme and plans for the transition of the programme to a sustainable and permanent model.
The Minister also told the Cabinet a number of indicators around Covid-19 had deteriorated in recent weeks, suggesting levels of transmission have increased.
These include the number of detected and reported cases and hospital admissions, while an increase in cases in intensive care in recent days is being monitored.
He told Cabinet that Covid is expected to continue to pose challenges to health and social care services.