Face coverings in NI shops to become mandatory next month

Face coverings in NI shops to become mandatory next month
Coronavirus – Fri Jul 10, 2020

Face coverings will be mandatory in shops in Northern Ireland from next month.

The measure to stifle the spread of coronavirus will be compulsory from August 1 but enforcement will begin on August 20 if necessary.

Stormont ministers will initiate a public awareness campaign over intervening weeks in the hope of securing voluntary compliance.

Health Minister Robin Swann said: “We are now starting that period of engagement and education with the general public to try and get as many people as possible wearing face coverings between now and that date.”

He expects at least 80% compliance by August 20 amid attempts to prevent a second wave of infection this autumn.

Face coverings have been shown internationally to help protect other people from contracting the disease from someone who may have Covid-19 but do not change official advice around social distancing.

Stormont ministers also agreed to allow from Friday:

– Spectators at outdoor sports events where access and social distancing can be controlled;

– Reopening of spas and swimming pools;

– Reopening community centres;

– Recommencing of funfairs and bowling alleys.

Executive ministers have agreed to write to the British and Irish Governments asking them to convene a meeting of the British-Irish Council to try to resolve issues around travel and coronavirus.

Northern Ireland’s Covid-19 contact-tracing mobile phone app will be launched next week, Stormont also decided.

It will be called Stop Covid NI and will be aimed at interrupting the spread of coronavirus by finding those most at risk of catching it.

Should someone receive a positive test for the disease, the person will be sent a unique code via text message.

Once the user gives permissions, the app will release data from the handset to a server so close contacts also using the app can be traced following a “digital handshake” between their devices, Stormont’s health department said.

The intention is to alert close contacts of a patient within a day or two of a positive test.

The software’s use will be voluntary and identifiable information will not be stored to comply with data protection regulations, an official told the health committee of Assembly members.

The operating system is designed by Google and Apple and its use will require Bluetooth to remain on.

Health Minister Robin Swann outside Stormont in Belfast (David Young/PA)

Health Department official Dan West said: “We are going to do a general launch of the app next week and intend to follow up with specific guidance to employers.”

Wednesday July 29 would be the earliest launch date, he said.

Those promoting the app will engage with major employers including the health service, universities, meat factories where low temperatures present greater risk of Covid-19 spread and Royal Mail.

Mr West added: “We can seek support from those organisations to help us promote downloading and usage of the app.”

There is interoperability with the Republic of Ireland’s version, where a total of 1.4 million people have already installed the app, Mr West said.

The version being developed for Great Britain will also be able to share data across the Common Travel Area (CTA) between Ireland and the UK including Northern Ireland.

The cost of building and operating it in Northern Ireland will be less than £1 million, Mr West said.

It will be limited to adults pending further discussions with young people’s advocates in Northern Ireland including the Children’s Commissioner.

That is due to issues surrounding the ability to grant consents and regulations on sharing data.

Stormont ministers cleared the app’s launch during a meeting on Thursday.

Dr Eddie O’Neill, from Northern Ireland’s Health and Social Care Board, is one of the officials behind the launch of the tracing app.

He said: “The number of transmissions is going to be fairly low.

“We will really be able to evaluate this when we come into the winter if there is a second wave.”

The Republic of Ireland’s app has been in operation since earlier this month.

Dr O’Neill added: “It is certainly working and people are being notified and receiving exposure notifications.”

The health service hopes to avoid a potentially deadly second wave of the virus this winter by encouraging social distancing measures.

Eight more people tested positive on Thursday in Northern Ireland but there were no more deaths, the Department of Health said.

Sixteen clusters have been identified by tracing teams who phoned close contacts of an infected person to establish if they have been exposed.

The app is designed to complement that work.

A cluster is defined as two or more laboratory-confirmed cases among people associated with a workplace, school or similar setting. Illness must begin within 14 days.

A total of 133 cases were associated with these clusters, and six involved more than five cases, the Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland has said.

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