An increase in demand for face masks has led to the publication of new safety guidelines by the Competition and Consumer Protection Commission.

There are three different types of face masks currently in use - medical/surgical, Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) and barrier face masks.

Last month, the Government advised that face masks or coverings should be worn in situations where social distancing might be difficult.

It also advised that people should not use medical/surgical or PPE masks and that these should be kept for healthcare workers.

It is recommended that the general public wear barrier masks, which may help prevent the spread of viral infection to others.

The Competition and Consumer Protection Commission is the authority for product safety legislation in relation to both PPE and barrier masks, which are sold to consumers.

It said it has received a large number of queries from businesses and importers about what regulatory requirements apply to the various forms of masks in use.

CCPC chairperson Isolde Goggins said is important that "businesses understand that these products have fundamentally different intended purposes and are therefore regulated under different product safety regimes and agencies in Ireland".

She said different masks serve different functions and it is essential that products are safe and consumers have all the information they need to "make an informed decision".

Speaking on RTÉ's Morning Ireland, Ms Goggins said the CCPC will be monitoring the face masks that go one sale in Ireland to ensure they conform to the guidelines and do not make misleading or false claims about protection levels from Covid-19.

Barrier masks are covered by the SWIFT-19 Specification which has been developed by the National Standards Authority of Ireland.

The packaging must be clearly and durably marked with information that should include the wording "Barrier Mask", the name and address of the producer, whether the mask is for single use or reusable along with any warnings, plus instructions for use. 

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Ms Goggins said barrier masks differ from PPE and surgical masks, and are intended to be worn in everyday situations such as while shopping or while on public transport.

She said they do not protect the wearer from viral infection but used in conjunction with public health advice may help to prevent the spread of viral infection to others.

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The Government's guidelines on cloth face coverings say they should:

  • cover the nose and go under the chin and:
  • fit snugly but comfortably against the side of the face
  • be secured with ties or ear loops
  • include at least two layers of fabric
  • allow for breathing without restriction.