Did face coverings/masks become “mandatory” in shops and indoor public spaces in Northern Ireland on 1 August 2020?

CLAIM: Face coverings/masks became “mandatory” in shops in Northern Ireland as of 1 August 2020.

CONCLUSION: INACCURATE. The wearing of face coverings/masks is currently being “encouraged” in a number of indoor settings. The NI Executive is due to review this approach on 20 August 2020 and may then implement the power to make it mandatory.

In a public Facebook post on 31 July 2020, the Alliance MLA Kellie Armstrong stated: “Face coverings are mandatory for shops and indoor public spaces in Northern Ireland from tomorrow [1 August]”. She included two separate links to additional sources of information, one from the Department of Health and the other from NI Direct.

Other political representatives in the Alliance Party of Northern Ireland, such as Neil Kelly and Sorcha Eastwood, have also made almost identical claims, which have been challenged by a member of another political party on Facebook. An earlier Facebook post, dated 24 July, by party leader, Naomi Long, also stated: “The Executive decided yesterday to introduce mandatory face coverings in shops and other indoor areas from 1st Aug 2020.”. Similarly, on 31 July, Long shared a tweet, which included, “Mandatory from the 1st, enforcement from the 20th, and a review at Executive on the 20th.”

What does the guidance tell us?

FactCheckNI previously published an article on the rules relating to face coverings/masks. It explains the guidance on if and/or when members of the public should wear face coverings in Northern Ireland and explores some of the available evidence regarding the effectiveness of their use. The evidence detailed suggests that face coverings/masks reduce the transmission of COVID-19. However, there are circumstances, such as those individuals living with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), who may need to take care in relation to, or avoid, wearing face masks, as they may potentially make breathing more difficult.

In a statement issued on 23 July by the Northern Ireland Executive, the following was clarified (our boldface):

“Ministers also agreed to legislate to take the power to make the use of face coverings mandatory in a number of indoor settings. This will not be implemented immediately. A publicity campaign will encourage the wearing of face coverings, and the Executive will consider the impact of this campaign at its meeting on August 20. If there has not been a significant increase in the use of face coverings by this stage, the Executive will implement the power to make this mandatory.

Therefore, it has been agreed that the wearing of face covering/masks in a “number of indoor settings” is being “encouraged”, rather than mandated, presently. This is due to be reviewed on 20 August, whereby if it is not felt that enough people are wearing face coverings/masks in indoor settings, it will become compulsory to do so. However, on 3 August Minster Robin Swann stated that the Northern Ireland Executive should urgently reconsider its policy on face coverings in shops. The health minister also said the review date for the policy should be brought forward from 20 August to 13 August, with a “projected start date for enforcement” the following day.


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