I propose to take Questions Nos. 1551 and 1552 together.
On 2 December 2021, the NPHET endorsed advice from HIQA which at that time concluded that the evidence did not support a population-level recommendation for the use of respirator masks by those who are at higher risk of severe infection from COVID-19 (while noting that this did not preclude their use at an individual level).
On 6 January 2022, the NPHET further reviewed its advice on facemasks within the context of the Omicron variant and made a number of recommendations. It recommended that guidance and messaging should clarify that:
- all types of masks, including cloth masks, can significantly reduce community transmission if properly constructed, well fitted, and appropriately worn;
- medical grade and respirator masks, if properly worn, offer greater protection than cloth masks;
- anyone who wishes to wear a medical grade or respirator mask instead of a cloth mask should do so, so long as whichever mask they choose is well-fitting and worn properly.
The NPHET recommended that the HSE should develop targeted communications in line with international models to provide appropriate information and clear messaging to communicate and promote adherence to the current public health guidance on facemasks.
Furthermore, the NPHET noted that as an additional form of protection for the wearer, individuals in medically vulnerable cohorts and older age groups (those 60s years and over) are currently advised to wear a medical grade mask when in crowded outdoor spaces or confined indoor spaces, including on public transport and in retail and healthcare settings. Some of these people may prefer to wear a respirator mask. When properly fitted and worn, a respirator mask may provide a higher level of protection against inhaling virus that may be valuable for people at higher risk.
Finally, the NPHET recommended that ideally a respirator mask or, alternatively, a medical grade mask (not a cloth mask) should be worn by anyone who is a confirmed COVID-19 diagnosis during their infectious period, or who has symptoms suggestive of COVID-19, or who is a household contact of a confirmed COVID-19 case, or visiting a healthcare setting or when visiting those who are vulnerable to COVID-19 in any setting. This advice formed the basis of new guidance for cases and close contacts published by the Government last week - details available here - www.gov.ie/en/publication/3361b-public-health-updates/#guidance-for-those-with-symptoms-cases-and-close-contacts.
The NPHET also emphasised that respirator and medical grade face masks must, in the first instance, be prioritised for use by healthcare workers and those in healthcare settings.
HIQA's rolling summary of Omicron evidence and guidance can be found online www.hiqa.ie/reports-and-publications/health-technology-assessment/summaries-evidence-and-international-public. The NPHET letters are also available online: www.gov.ie/en/collection/ba4aa0-letters-from-the-cmo-to-the-minister-for-health/