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guidance Pharmacists advised not to confront customers refusing to wear masks inside

The IPU also had to issue guidance after being contacted by some staff about their right to refuse to wear a mask

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Pharmacists have been advised not to get into confrontation with customers who are refusing to wear a face mask despite a pharmacy being a healthcare setting.

Questions were raised by some staff yesterday about the need for them to wear a masks in pharmacies, which fall into the category of being a healthcare setting but also a retail outlet.

While the wearing of masks is no longer mandatory in shops from yesterday - and healthcare settings are still designated as areas where they should be used - the rule no longer has the force of law.

Irish Pharmacy Union (IPU) head Darragh O'Loughlin yesterday said there could be customers who insist on not wearing a mask and in those situations the pharmacist should "not get into confrontation but serve them quickly so they can leave".

The IPU had to issue guidance after being contacted by some staff about their right to refuse to wear a mask.

It said the mandatory requirement is removed but public health advice is that they continue to be worn in healthcare settings.

"There are people coming in and out of pharmacies who are immunocompromised. We have to protect these people," Mr O'Loughlin said.

The IPU head was speaking as deputy chief medical officer Dr Ronan Glynn said yesterday the advice is to wear a mask anywhere you feel it appropriate, particularly in healthcare settings and public transport.

Mr O'Loughlin said we are in "a broadly positive position" in relation to the virus, with 47 Covid-19 patients in intensive care yesterday, the lowest number since last August.

He noted that 60pc of these patients had not received a booster vaccine and urged those who are eligible for the jab to get it.

Meanwhile, Sarah Lennon of Sage Advocacy, which provides support and advocates for vulnerable adults, yesterday said some nursing homes have introduced their own visiting restrictions which are causing "distress" for residents who have already suffered so much during the pandemic.

"We are very aware that despite the current guidance on visiting nursing homes and updated infection prevention and control guidance for nursing homes, that some providers are restricting visiting," Ms Lennon said.

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"While many nursing homes are following the guidance on visiting, some nursing home providers have introduced restrictions on visiting and this is causing considerable distress and upset to residents and their loved ones.

"We know meaningful, safe visits are hugely important to the well-being and mental health of both nursing home residents and their loved ones, and that without visits and the connection to loved ones, residents have really suffered throughout the pandemic."

Ms Lennon said everyone who lives in a nursing home has the right to have or refuse visitors and to leave a nursing home.

We cannot have one rule for the rest of society and leave nursing home residents behind, she added.

In response, Tadhg Daly, of Nursing Homes Ireland, said it supports the guidance and called on visitors to remain vigilant, follow infection prevention and control, and wear a face mask for the duration of their visit to the nursing home.

"This is a prudent ask of visitors in home where an outbreak can result in residents being required to isolate for 10 days. When an outbreak occurs, nursing homes are guided by public health," Mr Daly said.

"A resident may choose to receive a visit from a nominated support person under the public health guidelines and there is requirement for the visitor to be aware of the associated risks.

"With over 300 outbreaks open in nursing homes at present, there is shared responsibility to protect nursing home residents."

It comes as the HSE is planning to move into a new mode of surveillance to monitor the spread of the virus as PCR testing is scaled down.

This will involve more reliance on GPs, as well as population surveys.

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