Masks "will only make a very small difference" on Covid, says Leo Varadkar
The Tánaiste says we are in a "different phase" of the pandemic.
Tánaiste Leo Varadkar has said that mask-wearing will only make a "very small difference" in the continued fight against Covid-19.
The Government's emergency legislation regarding implementing Covid-focused restrictions officially expired at midnight on Friday morning.
Speaking on Prime Time on RTÉ One on Thursday night, the Tánaiste pointed to the latest advice from health officials who have noted that while the pandemic is not over, "the public health emergency is".
Varadkar's comments follow on from Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly signalling a positive change in the overall status of the virus in Ireland.
Donnelly highlighted that in all Covid testing areas, the seven-day moving average positivity rate is falling, as is the seven-day average of new cases.
The Minister also stated that less than half of people in Irish hospitals with the virus were admitted because of the disease and that most people with Covid in hospital are asymptomatic and are there for another reason.
On the subject of mask-wearing moving forward, Varadkar, who is currently isolating following a positive Covid-19 diagnosis last week, said:
"In the current context it's no longer appropriate to say to people, 'If you don't wear a mask then we're going to prosecute you or fine you or potentially even arrest you'.
"The emergency legislation that we have produced for the pandemic, those emergency powers the Government took, they fall tonight [Thursday] and they're not being reviewed.
"But we are encouraging people to wear masks," Varadkar continued.
"We do know that masks can help to reduce the spread of the virus and we are saying to people in public transport and healthcare settings and even in other crowded indoor spaces to wear masks.
"But we're also realistic that will only make a very small difference because most people get this virus at home.
"People aren't going to be wearing masks at home, and in the indoor settings where it spreads the most, like pubs and nightclubs and restaurants and so on; people aren't really going to wear masks there either because they're eating and drinking.
"So, the difference it would make is quite small."
Varadkar said that Ireland is "close to – or past – the peak of the second Omicron wave," according to Chief Medical Officer Tony Holohan.
— RTÉ Prime Time (@RTE_PrimeTime) March 31, 2022
The Tánaiste went on to emphasise the positive effect of vaccines in combatting the virus and noted that over 700,000 people in Ireland who are eligible for the booster vaccine have yet to get one.
Asked if his stance on mask-wearing was more to do with public apathy than health advice, Varadkar replied:
"No, the reason is because we're beyond the emergency state of this pandemic.
"We're living with the virus and we have to make sure what we do is proportionate. So, we've never made it legally binding or a criminal offence not to isolate, but we advise that people do it.
"We've never mandated people to get vaccinated, although we encourage people to do it. And we're not mandating any new public health restrictions, and that includes masks.
"So, we're moving into a different phase of this pandemic where it's about living with the virus and that's around encouraging people and educating them and asking them to do the right thing.
"That is get vaccinated, isolate if you're sick, wear a mask in certain circumstances, it's good ventilation, it's getting outdoors, it's all of those things.
"But, thankfully, we're not in the space where we need to threaten people with prosecution or criminal sanctions. We've moved beyond that now."
Tánaiste Varadkar said that restrictions will only return in the event of a new, more damaging variant of Covid emerging in the future.
Featured Image of Leo Varadkar via Sam Boal / RollingNews.ie