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Professor says no to potential mask mandate as face coverings are not ‘shields’

Professor Fanning said we must consider the Omicron wave in January, which saw “plenty of mask wearing” but an “enormous” surge in cases.

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Neasa Cumiskey

A university professor has said that reintroducing facemask mandates to curb the spread of Covid would be an unnecessary precaution.

Liam Fanning, an immunovirology lecturer at University College Cork (UCC) said that while there is “validity” to arguments in favour of mask-wearing, he believes the impact would be limited “given the current infection trajectory that people experience when they have Covid-19.”

“No, I don't think we need mandatory masking,” he told Newstalk Breakfast.

“It's very hard to quantify the actual impact of masks.

“The certainty is that wearing masks does probably reduce the transmission, or you picking up, Covid-19.

“This virus is so infectious at this stage that the capacity as we wear masks... You walk around and you see that very few people that are wearing masks at the moment.

"Some of them are still under the nose, some of them are not tight enough.

“The actual seal that you have on most masks now is probably not sufficient to effectively cut down on transmission.”

Professor Fanning said we must consider the Omicron wave in January, which saw “plenty of mask wearing” but an “enormous” surge in cases.

He added that those who wish to continue wearing masks should keep doing so but stressed the importance of vaccinations in protecting yourself against the virus.

“I think there's some comfort for people when they're wearing a mask, but it's not a shield,” he explained.

“And back to the old messaging of ‘Get your vaccine’. We still have many individuals – I think a third of individuals - in hospital with Omicron who are unvaccinated or incompletely vaccinated.

“I’m an advocate for vaccines and I think everybody should be vaccinated. The data still shows that vaccination protects you from serious disease reduces your chances of ending up in hospital.”

It comes after Health Minister Stephen Donnelly suggested that mandatory mask-wearing on public transport could be introduced as Ireland faces a summer wave of Covid-19.

While the return of public health restrictions is not currently under consideration by public health officials, Mr Donnelly said that there is a possibility that mask mandates could return temporarily in the near future.

“Is it possible that I could get a recommendation for public transport or for retail [that], yes, we do recommend now that we move to mandatory mask-wearing for a short period of time? You couldn’t rule that out,” Mr Donnelly told the Sunday Independent this weekend.

“It’s not where we’re at, but you can never say never.”

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