Masks to be compulsory in indoor public places?

NEW laws are being drawn up to make wearing masks compulsory in indoor public places as part of plans to help prevent a second wave of Covid-19.

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Health Minister Richard Renouf said he hoped to bring the law to the States for approval at the start of October and politicians may be asked to debate it as soon as possible, scrapping the six-week lodging period usually required before a proposition is debated.

The minister said the move followed concerns that residents had become ‘too relaxed’ and complacent due to the current low levels of infection in the Island.

‘It remains strongly recommended to wear masks in public,’ he said. ‘We are to engage in discussions with retailers particularly about how they might encourage the wearing of masks in retail outlets. I believe we are very relaxed in Jersey. Anyone who has been to the UK or other countries this summer will have seen how the wearing of masks is more prevalent there. Perhaps in Jersey we have become too relaxed.’

Deputy Renouf said that a law needed to be introduced to make the wearing of masks mandatory, adding that legislation was currently being drawn up.

Last week Jersey’s deputy medical officer of health Dr Ivan Muscat said Jersey may have to increase measures to help prevent a serious outbreak of the virus.

He said that although he was still hopeful of a vaccine this autumn, protective measures such as wearing masks in shops were being considered.

He said masks had a ‘protective effect and also provide an important reminder that we are living in abnormal times and about the need to adhere to public health guidelines’.

The wearing of masks in many indoor public places is now mandatory in the UK, where people can be fined up to £100 for breaking the rules. Similar laws are also in place in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland, where fines of £60 are payable.

There are exemptions for children under 11, people who cannot wear or remove a face covering because of a physical or mental illness or impairment or disability, those working indoors, police officers and other emergency workers or those who would suffer significant distress if they wore one.

In Jersey masks are currently compulsory on public buses and flights, with some Islanders being exempt on the grounds of health or disability.

Meanwhile, Economic Development Minister Lyndon Farnham has said charging incoming passengers to Jersey for their Covid-19 test could cause a ‘sharp drop’ in the number of visitors coming to the Island.

Using Iceland as an example of a country where a decision to charge for tests was followed by a downturn in passenger numbers, Senator Farnham said he would not support the introduction of such charges at this stage.

However, he acknowledged that long-term taxpayer funding of the testing of all arriving passengers was unsustainable and said he would favour the government bearing the cost of the tests until a vaccine against Covid-19 was in place and airlines and ferry companies were showing more confidence.

Answering a question on the subject in the States yesterday from St Helier Constable Simon Crowcroft, Senator Farnham said: ‘At this stage I would certainly not support the introduction of charges for the tests. As we have seen with places like Iceland, this could cause a sharp drop in passenger numbers.

‘It might not be sustainable to continue the full cost of testing indefinitely, but I certainly wouldn’t support any changes to the current regime until such time as we were being vaccinated.’

Earlier this month it was revealed that the cost of Jersey’s Covid-19 testing programme to the end of August had reached almost £5m.

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