‘I think it would be a small measure that might go some way towards alleviating the respiratory crisis - the tripledemic - that’s happening now’
Labour TD Duncan Smith has voiced his support for a mask mandate amid the winter “tripledemic” of Covid, the flu, and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus).
Chief Medical Officer Breda Smyth has “strongly advised” the public to wear masks on public transport and in confined spaces, and Mr Smith is urging the Government to make them compulsory.
Speaking on Newstalk Breakfast, he said: “The Chief Medical Officer has been advising this since Christmas. But we’ve heard nothing from Government in terms of any kind of real strong public health advice in relation to public mask wearing.
“The calls are coming from the workers on the frontline; we have it from the Irish Nurses and Midwives Organisation and that’s backed up by the Irish Congress of Trade Unions.
“I’m listening to nurses and healthcare assistants who have been onto me every day; they’re under intense pressure and feel like nobody’s listening to them because the teeth of the Covid pandemic has passed and everything’s tickety boo in the health service.
“We have a health service that is under resourced and is being attacked by what’s been called a ‘tripledemic’ and I just believe, if we’re being asked in terms of proper public health advice to wear masks to protect our frontline health workers during the latest crisis, then I think that’s a small price to pay.
“If that needs a stronger messaging or even a mandating - which I don’t think is going to come, by the way – that's something I would support”.
The mask mandate for transport and other public settings was lifted in February last year, but Mr Smith said he doesn’t think it’s unreasonable to ask people to wear face coverings once again.
“I don’t think mask wearing is a massive imposition... I think people are ahead of senior politicians and government officials on this because I’ve seen a massive increase in mask wearing over the late December period and into January.
“I think it would be a small measure that might go some way towards alleviating the respiratory crisis - the tripledemic - that’s happening now.
“We’re all trying to learn throughout this, but we do know that masks help to hinder the spread of respiratory illnesses.”
He continued: “We have a health system that’s in an intense crisis, we have a trolley crisis that’s worse than ever, three respiratory illnesses are putting pressure on that, so if there’s anything the public can do, I think we should do this over the course of January and February.
“Maybe it is too late but our frontline workers and sick people on trolleys in hospitals up and down the country aren’t seeing anything from political leaders in terms of trying to tackle this. The workers are feeling absolutely abandoned”.
The Labour politician believes the public would support stronger public health messages from the Government.
“We’ve had two years during the pandemic of pretty strong Government messaging in terms of public health advice,” he said.
“We are not hearing that now… We’ve gone back to the way it used to be and I don’t think that’s good enough in terms of the pressure the health service is under at this particular time.”
Last month, Leo Varadkar ruled out a mask mandate but encouraged the public to wear face coverings over the winter period.
“As things stand, we don’t have any proposals to reintroduce a mask mandate,” the Taoiseach said
“But we are encouraging people to use masks in crowd settings - particularly, for example, on public transport.
“[We’re] very much saying to people that if you have respiratory symptoms, you should stay at home until they are resolved and also really encouraging people who haven’t taken the flu or Covid vaccine to do so.”