Nphet meeting | 

Covid-19 mask laws for shops, schools and public transport to be scrapped

The Government is also expecting the requirement for children to wear masks in school to come to an end

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Philip Ryan and Gabija Gataveckaite

Laws requiring masks to be worn in shops and on public transport are expected to be dropped and replaced with guidance urging people to continue the wearing of face coverings to protect against Covid.

The Government is also expecting the requirement for children to wear masks in school to come to an end after the National Public Health Emergency Team (Nphet) meets this week.

Passengers flying abroad will still be required to wear masks on airplanes as those rules are based on EU directives.

The requirement to wear masks in shops and on trains and buses is among the final Covid restrictions remaining after the Government announced a major easing of measures in January.

Nphet will meet tomorrow to review the remaining pandemic restrictions, which include the mask mandate and various other measures related to schools.

Senior Government figures also expect public health experts to recommend removing the need for children to wear masks in schools.

The requirement to wear masks in schools was left in place when other restrictions were lifted due to the low ­levels of vaccination among students.

"Nphet kept masks to get more kids vaccinated but that was always going to be challenging as parents don't rush to get their kids vaccinated and they don't really get sick from it," a Government source said.

The Department of Education is waiting anxiously for Nphet's advice on masks due to concerns over a backlash from teachers unions if they are no longer needed in classrooms.

Officials are also expecting advice on other school restrictions such as pods and staggered breaks.

There is some support in the department for leaving Covid measures in place until the end of the school term.

Yesterday, opposition politicians raised concerns over masks being dropped for schoolchildren despite high levels of Covid-19.

Solidarity-People Before Profit TD Paul Murphy said the number of children in hospital under five is "quite worrying".

Labour TD Aodhán Ó Ríordáin said that Covid is still "very much present" in schools despite students wearing masks but said he will support Nphet if it recommends ending the need for masks in classrooms.

Last week, the Taoiseach said his "personal view" was that people should continue wearing masks in shops and on public transport.

"The continued mandating of masks will be dealt with, but irrespective of whether it is mandated or not, I would recommend that people would wear masks in retail and public transport for some time yet," Micheál Martin said.

"If they are no longer necessary, they are no longer necessary and people will no longer have to wear them," he added.

Green Party leader Eamon Ryan is in favour of the masks requirement being lifted for schools as soon as possible and is open to listening to Nphet's advice on shops and public transport.

A spokesperson for Tánaiste Leo Varadkar said they did not know his ­personal view on masks.

The Government's senior officials' group will meet today ahead of the Nphet meeting tomorrow.

The Taoiseach has also said the Government is devising a new plan to allow the country to live with Covid until the end of the year.

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