The Chief Medical Officer has said there will be a role for non-medical grade face coverings in the community as part of the response to Covid-19.

Dr Tony Holohan said that there will be communication in the coming days on the nature of these coverings, as well as their effective use.

Speaking at the Department of Health this evening, Dr Holohan said that "perhaps" the use of coverings may be recommended in situations such as retail stores or on public transport. 

However, he also cited the importance of continued hand hygiene and physical distancing while using face coverings. 

He said there will be a role in community settings for face coverings that are not of a medical grade.

He said they did not want a "competition" for access to essential personal protective equipment that is designed for healthcare use, in healthcare settings by healthcare professionals.

He said face coverings for general use would be of a different grade and in some cases, people can make these for themselves.

But, he said, there would be guidance in how to use them because the evidence was clear, that if face coverings are not used correctly, they can increase the risk of transmission and the covering becomes contaminated.

If it is touched, it can spread the infection to the hands, he said.

He said face coverings do not protect you fully against the virus and it is important to continue the other measures of hand-washing and social distancing.

A professor of immunology said that the use of face coverings will be "critical" in reopening the country. 

Luke O'Neill of Trinity College in Dublin stressed that "most countries" have already issued instructions on coverings, "because they all know it's a key element". 

Professor O'Neill believes that using coverings should be a "key strategy" along with existing public health advice like social distancing and handwashing. 

"Wearing a mask will help to stop the transmission of the virus in public places. If we don't wear masks, there is a risk of transmission, a risk of infecting people. So I see it as a key strategy with all the rest of it," he said. 

"It's not about you really, it's about stopping you spreading it to someone else, so there's a wonderful community aspect to this." 

He added that scientific studies are suggesting that 95% of the "viral load" can be trapped in a face covering, meaning that if two people together are wearing coverings, there will be "virtually no exchange of the virus between those two people". 

How and where facial coverings are used is a different question. 

"If you can maintain social distance, there is no real reason to wear a mask. If you're in a supermarket, there is a chance you might breach that [social distancing], or if you're walking in a crowd, or on public transport, then you're in close contact. That is where you need to wear the mask," he said.

"A cotton mask is the best thing to wear. 

"Two layers of cotton, a bit of nylon is good in between. Sew it up and put two pieces of elastic on the end. That will do fine. You can make them with staple guns, people all over the country are making them." 

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Face coverings was among the key items under review at a meeting of the National Public Health Emergency Team today.

The team was due to look at the evidence supporting the use of coverings in protecting against the spread of Covid-19.

This includes the type, quality and feasibility of face coverings based on best evidence and the international experience at this point.

On Friday, the team will meet again to consider advice to the Government on proceeding with the first phase of the five-step plan to lift restrictions from next Monday, 18 May.

Meanwhile, speaking on RTÉ's 'Ireland on Call' tonight, the Deputy Chief Medical Officer, Dr Ronan Glynn said masks do have a role to play in the fight against the spread of coronavirus.

But he said face coverings will never replace the current guidelines focused on social distancing, hand hygiene and coughing etiquette.

Dr Glynn said there may be a need to use face masks on public transport but that any future recommendations would be voluntary.

''Internationally we have seen many countries recommend wearing masks as a measure of solidarity,'' Dr Glynn said.

He added: ''In wearing masks you are protecting others if you are sick and preventing others from getting that if you cough or sneeze.''

Earlier, one expert in disease control has said face masks or face coverings should be worn by all essential workers including workers in retail, postal services and by gardaí at checkpoints to reduce the spread of the Covid-19 virus.

Professor Gerry Killeen of the School of Biological, Earth and Environmental Sciences at University College Cork said he is "puzzled" by the Government's position not to recommend wearing face masks for disease control.

He warned that "the worst face mask is the one you're not wearing".