Two weeks on from the Northern Ireland Executive announcing that people should wear face coverings or masks in shops, the Commissioner for Older People for Northern Ireland, Eddie Lynch, has said that the current level of mask wearing by the public is causing great concern among older people and is preventing many of them emerging from lockdown.

Eddie Lynch said: “The Northern Ireland Executive has agreed for weeks now that face masks or coverings can help in the fight against Covid-19 by reducing the spread of the virus. The public was asked to take this simple step to protect themselves and each other but it is clear that compliance with this advice is much lower than the levels we need to make a difference and help protect lives.

“I have spoken to many older people in the past few weeks, including many who can only now emerge from their homes after shielding for over four months. Their opinions have been consistent and clear – they would feel much more comfortable in going out to the shops if most shoppers were wearing face coverings or masks. Those who have ventured out have been shocked and confused by the low rate of compliance with the advice.

“We are halfway through the period the Northern Ireland Executive gave us to change our actions for the common good but the evidence is all around us – not enough people are ‘masking up’ in our towns and cities. We have to create the conditions that enable older people to feel they can be part of society again during these testing times. It would be a shame if, after complying so brilliantly with lockdown, and flattening the curve of the virus outbreak, we failed to maintain good measures like face masks, hand washing and good social distancing. I believe that most people would not want to cause harm to their older friends or neighbours. Face coverings might not be very comfortable, but it is a small step we can all take to show that we are in this together, and to help older people regain their confidence.

“I am calling on everyone who can wear a mask to do so now to help older people who are understandably nervous about emerging from lockdown. However, if this doesn’t happen soon then the Northern Ireland Executive must bring forward their date for making the wearing of masks mandatory. The wearing of face masks and coverings, along with the other measures already in place, give us the best chance to keep the virus levels low in Northern Ireland and protect many of our most vulnerable citizens.”