Coronavirus: Nichola Mallon calls for face coverings in shops

Facemasks for shoppersImage source, Reuters
Image caption,
Face coverings will be mandatory for shoppers in England from 24 July

Stormont's Infrastructure Minister Nichola Mallon has said she supports the use of face coverings in shops.

Wearing a face covering in shops will be mandatory in England from 24 July, but in Northern Ireland it is only compulsory on public transport; going to hospitals or visiting care homes.

However, Ms Mallon said if the science supports mask use on public transport, that should be extended to shops.

The Executive Office said the issue was kept "under continuous review".

During the early stages of the Covid-19 pandemic, Ms Mallon argued for the introduction of face coverings on public transport in Northern Ireland, a move which came into force on 10 July.

Image source, PA Media
Image caption,
Nichola Mallon has supported the introduction of face mask rules for weeks

On Tuesday morning, the local chair of the British Medical Association (BMA) said most people in Northern Ireland would be wearing face coverings indoors where social distancing is difficult "in the coming weeks".

Dr Tom Black said he was "fairly confident" that most people will be using face masks soon.

He suggested that Stormont could take a role in this move, but that the public would also take the initiative in wearing them.

"Science leads this for the Department of Health," Dr Black told BBC Radio Foyle.

"There is less speed on this than we would've expected, but it's going in the right direction."

Image caption,
Dr Tom Black chairs the BMA in Northern Ireland

He added: "I would be fairly confident that most of us will be wearing face coverings inside where we have difficulty maintaining social distancing and that will happen gradually in the next few weeks."

The move on face coverings in shops in England brings it into line with Scotland and other major European nations like Spain, Italy and Germany, where face coverings are mandatory.

Face coverings are not required in shops in Wales but the government there has also said it will keep the rules under review.

Retail staff 'abused and threatened'

Retail NI chief executive Glyn Roberts said Northern Ireland should be "led by the science".

"If the science says this needs to be introduced locally then obviously we have to respect that," Mr Roberts said.

However, he warned that if the rules are changed then it should not be left to retail staff to enforce them.

He said it would be "completely unfair" for retailers and could cause unnecessary confrontation between staff and customers.

Image source, Pacemaker
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Glyn Roberts said there had been reports of retail staff being abused and threatened when trying to enforce social distancing rules

"We've seen locally here incidents of violence and abuse directed to retail staff when they are policing social distancing," Mr Roberts said.

"We've had reports to us [Retail NI] of abuse, threats and retailers have reported scuffles between customers about accusing each other of not social distancing.

"If they had to enforce this locally, it wouldn't work."

Mr Roberts added that the "vast majority of customers have been respecting the rules".

In a statement, a Northern Ireland Executive spokesperson said that face coverings are "strongly recommended in indoor environments where social distancing may be difficult".

"The executive keeps the issue of face coverings under continuous review and any changes to the advice will be communicated to the public."

This story was updated on 15 July to include advice on face coverings in hospital and care home settings.