As Ireland continues to re-open after the three-month COVID-19 lockdown the government has not ruled out making face coverings mandatory on public transport and in shops to stop the spread of the coronavirus.

Outgoing Taoiseach Leo Varadkar suggested this when on Monday he announced a campaign to encourage people to wear face coverings on buses, trains and other public transport as more shopping centers started to open.

Asked whether the government would enforce wearing face coverings, Varadkar said, “We have given consideration in making it mandatory. We don’t rule that out, but there are real difficulties with that.

Read more: Coronavirus live updates from Ireland

“Some people have phobias, some people have breathing difficulties. There are lots of different reasons as to why you wouldn’t make it mandatory.”

He said that during the epidemic Irish people really understood and followed public health advice, and the government didn’t have to underpin much of that with laws or fines.

Grafton Street, before the last phase of lockdown, with very few masks to be seen.

Grafton Street, before the last phase of lockdown, with very few masks to be seen.

He added, “It’s much better to have people understand why it’s right to wear a mask and do it voluntarily.”

A National Public Health Emergency Team survey in the Republic shows that 34 percent of the population say they wear face coverings in public, an increase from 28 percent last week.

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Deputy Chief Medical Officer Dr. Ronan Glynn said 1.7 million people now said they wore masks in public places, and that meant the message from health officials was “getting across.”

No new COVID-19 deaths were reported in any part of Ireland on Monday, although in the Republic there were 18 new cases of the illness.

Latest figures show that COVID-19 has claimed 2,247 deaths in all Ireland – 1,706 in the Republic and 541 in Northern Ireland. 

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