Coronavirus: Health Minister to propose mandatory face coverings in NI shops
Health Minister Robin Swann is set to bring a proposal to the executive to make face coverings mandatory in shops in Northern Ireland.
It is thought Mr Swann will propose the measure to other ministers next week.
Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said he supported the move.
He told BBC News NI that with the shielding period for thousands of people in NI due to end on 31 July, they needed more confidence to be able to go outside again.
"That means us doing the right thing and using a face covering in enclosed spaces, and also reducing the risk of further waves in autumn and winter," he said.
"It is the right thing to do and proper and respectful thing to do - we need to change the behaviour now, we need to get public used to them, the time is now.
"I would like to see us take all steps necessary to ensure by 31 July, many more of us are wearing face coverings we have a duty to ensure that's the case," he added.
Dr McBride said he now supported the move because the "evidence has changed".
"I was not convinced from the outset but there is greater evidence now - not protecting me as the wearer of the face covering, or you as the wearer of the face covering, but actually the benefit of protecting other people.
"Right from the outset our approach has always been to protect others, to protect others who are more vulnerable than us and to protect our health service and we need to continue to do that," he added.
In a statement Health Minister Robin Swann said he had "no wish to pre-empt executive decisions", but that "everything possible must be done to promote the wearing of face coverings in shops and enclosed spaces where people are not eating or drinking."
It will be up to the executive as a whole to make the decision on whether to make face coverings mandatory in shops, based on Mr Swann's proposal which could come before ministers next week.
The development comes after the Union of Shop, Distributive and Allied Workers (Usdaw) said shop workers in Northern Ireland want face coverings to be mandatory in stores.
Usdaw's Raymond Neal said he was aware of incidents where shop workers have faced "high levels of abuse", with customers coughing and sneezing close to staff or not social distancing.
He described this as "totally unacceptable".
Face coverings are compulsory in NI on public transport, for hospital and care home visitors, as well as for patients attending hospital appointments.
Passenger removed from Belfast train
On Wednesday, a passenger on the Dublin to Belfast Enterprise service was escorted from the train at Balbriggan after refusing to wear a face covering.
Some other countries, such as Spain, Italy and Germany, have made face coverings compulsory in stores.
When the policy is adopted in England from 24 July, the government said those who fail to comply with the new rules will face a fine of up to £100.
Health Secretary Matt Hancock said face coverings would "give people more confidence to shop safely and enhance protections for those who work in shops".