Facemasks In Public As Part Of Covid-19 Reopening

One of the European countries which has had some success in holding back the tide of Covid-19 has been Portugal. The Iberian country, with a population of 10 million, responded quickly and comprehensively to introduce measures to combat the spread of the novel coronavirus and its multi-factor approach has meant that while the disease has entered the country and unfortunately caused over 1,000 deaths so far, the health systems have not been overwhelmed as they have in neighbouring countries such as Spain. 

The success of the Portuguese response was based on the speedy implementation of measures, comprehensive testing and buy-in from both political parties and the public in general. Now the country is proceeding with their plan to reopen the country.

Portugal: Getting Ready to Reopen

One factor that is going to be part of the ongoing Portuguese response is the use of face masks by the general public. As of May 3rd, new additions were made to the country’s Covid-19 regulations.

The use of masks is now mandatory in the following locations/situations

  • Commercial establishments & services
  • Public Services & Buildings 
  • Educational Establishments
  • Daycare centres (for all staff and for students over 6)
  • People using transport in groups.

Not wearing a mask in these situations can entail a fine of between €120 and €350

Is Ireland getting on board with facemasks?

Up to now, the recommendation from the HSE and the Chief Medical officer have not included use of face masks outside of a hospital setting, but as we move towards the phased plan to reopen the country, they may factor in as a part of the risk reduction.

The Chief Medical Officer, Dr Tony Holohan, has said that making face masks or coverings a requirement in certain situations such as shops or public transport as the country begins to gradually  relax Covid-19 restrictions. Anecdotally, there is definitely an upswing in the use of masks in public, but there have not as yet been official guidelines issued.

Tips for facemask use outside of a healthcare setting

Using a facemask or covering correctly while in public may have some effect on reducing the spread of coronavirus - but careless or incorrect use could actually increase the danger of spread. Here are some tips.

  • N95 and other medical grade filter facemasks are not advised for general public use. As they are only effective if fitted correctly, they are best used in a healthcare setting by professionals.
  • The most important thing to note is that a non-medical facemask can only be used in addition to social distancing measures, not instead of them.
  • Masks are not suitable for babies and very young children
  • The facemask should cover your nose and mouth completely - from the bridge of the nose to the chin.
  • The effectiveness of facemask use declines the longer they are worn, so keep trips as short as possible.
  • Wash or sanitise your hands before putting your facemask on.
  • Do not touch the front of the mask or your mouth while fitting the facemask - use the ear straps and carefully adjust until it’s in the right spot.
  • Once the facemask is in place, do not touch it, pull it down or adjust it in any way until you’re ready to remove it.
  • Remove the facemask without touching the front - use the ear straps. If it’s disposable, throw it in a bin as soon as possible after removing. Otherwise wash your facemask in the laundry between each use.
  • Always wash or sanitise your hands after removing your facemask
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