Here is my letter to the Belfast Newsletter newspaper (published on its website yesterday) and a shorter version was published yesterday in its print edition:
In case you cannot access my letter fully on the Newsletter website ( I think you have to login, but it’s free), here is a copy of my letter as it appears on their website:
Wearing masks is now compulsory in the Republic so I will shop north of border if NI leaves face coverings as a voluntary choice. By Patrick McGinnity, Thursday, 23rd July 2020, 7:30 am
I agree with Belfast Chamber Chief Executive Simon Hamilton and Retail NI Chief Executive Glyn Roberts (July 21) that the mandatory wearing of face masks in shops “could adversely affect trade and generate serious issues around enforcement”.
(Read the story here: ‘Mandatory wearing of face masks in shops could put people off spending money locally, NI retailers warn’)
They make it clear they would fully support the voluntary wearing of face coverings, but feel that if they become mandatory then people could be put off shopping.
I agree there is no problem if people want to wear face masks voluntarily in shops, but we should not be forced to do so.
I live near the border in Armagh, so I can shop North or South. But with face masks becoming mandatory in shops under draconian new laws in the Republic since Monday, I will avoid shopping in the South.
Walking into a shop with everyone wearing masks is very off putting as it is like a scene from a weird science fiction film. Mr Hamilton and Mr Roberts are correct to highlight that making masks mandatory could drive shoppers away.
That is the last thing a struggling retail sector needs right now.
British Secretary of State for Health, Matt Hancock, said on April 24: “The evidence around the use of masks by the general public, especially outdoors, is extremely weak.”
However, in the past two weeks, there have been claims that the evidence around mask wearing has changed and hence governments have moved to make them mandatory.
But this view that the evidence has changed does not appear to be shared by Professor Carl Heneghan, Director of The Centre for Evidence Based Medicine in Oxford University.
In an interview on July 18, Prof Heneghan said: “By all means people can wear masks or not wear masks, policy can make the decision, but what they can’t do is say it’s an evidence based decision.”
It would be very strange to even consider making face masks mandatory at this stage when the death rate in Northern Ireland has dropped to zero and intensive care units are empty of Covid 19 patients.
This is especially so given that they were not mandatory at the height of the outbreak. If we study the death rate graphs for Covid 19 from around the world, there is not one country where the death numbers have increased again after they have fallen to a minimum.
We hear that cases have increased in various places, but this has not been accompanied by an increase in deaths or hospital admissions.
This virus is very much in retreat across the UK and Ireland. So much so that Professor Adrian Hill, who is leading the team developing a potential vaccine at Oxford University, claimed on May 23 that it was difficult to test the vaccine in the UK because the levels of infection were falling fast.
Prof Hill stated “cases are declining” and that “It’s a race against the virus disappearing, and against time.”
That was eight weeks ago and Intensive Care Units (ICU) in Northern Ireland are now empty of Covid 19 patients.
So making masks mandatory in shops now would not make sense because the viral circulation is low.
Patrick McGinnity MVB MRCVS, Armagh