Is it time to stash – or throw – away your masks?
As of Thursday, commuters in all Australian jurisdictions are no longer required to wear masks on public transport.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Debate rages over necessity of masks on public transport.
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Victoria, NSW and Queensland joined South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, ACT and Northern Territory in not requiring passengers on public transport to mask-up.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet says it is a common-sense approach bringing the rules into line for people traveling on buses, trains, rideshares, taxis and planes.
NSW Health still recommends people wear masks where they cannot physically distance and in settings where there are vulnerable people.
Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath is asking commuters to wear masks when appropriate.
“There are still directions. If you are someone who has been isolating, after your five days you are requested to wear masks,” she said.
Victoria was the last state to scrap the mandate, calling the move “a sensible step to ensure national consistency”.
Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas says masks are still required if you have COVID or if you are a close or household contact who is not required to quarantine – for example, because you have tested negative on a RAT test.
But not everyone is happy – specifically those who deal with COVID-19 patients.
Australian Medical Association president Steve Robson said governments continued to make serious decisions with no consultation and no discussion.
“This is a major decision which will have consequences, and it should have been done with national consensus and clear health guidance,” he said.
“Masks kept us safe from infection when we didn’t have a vaccine, and they continue to be an effective, low-cost, low-hassle and proven way to protect ourselves and others.”
Robson said COVID was still very serious, particularly for vulnerable populations, and was deadly for many people.
“Restrictions are being loosened, including time in isolation, and we still don’t have any sign this was based on medical evidence,” he said.
He also noted the decision came at a time when worrying data was still being released, including in aged care.
“Many of our most vulnerable people in the community are the ones who use public transport the most,” he said.
“Masks are the last of the sensible protections, and we urge people not to abandon using them.”
However, optimism grows that the pandemic could soon be over.
Last week, the World Health Organization reported global deaths from COVID-19 were the lowest since March 2020.
The United Nations agency believes the world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic, urging countries to keep up their efforts against the virus that has killed more than 6 million people
“We are not there yet. But the end is in sight,” WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said.
The comment was the most optimistic from the United Nations agency since it declared COVID-19 an international emergency in January 2020 and started describing it as a pandemic three months later.
The virus, which was first detected in China in late 2019, has killed nearly 6.5 million people and infected 606 million, roiling global economies and overwhelming healthcare systems.
Mask requirements across Australia
Mask requirements for public transport, rideshares and domestic air travel were eased on September 9.
However, in “high-risk settings” such as hospital, health clinics, corrections facilities, aged care settings and disability services, masks are still mandated.
People are “encouraged” to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces “to help protect vulnerable members of the community”.
The Sunshine State allowed public transport commuters – as well as rideshare passengers – to ditch their masks on Wednesday, September 21.
However, mandates exist for healthcare settings, residential aged care and disability accommodation, according to Queensland Health.
There is also a requirement for people outside their home to wear a mask if they have COVID or COVID symptoms, are waiting for COVID test results, are a close contact of a COVID case or have a temperature of 37.5C or above.
The territory updated its rules on Monday mandating people 12 years or older must wear a mask in hospitals, health facilities, aged care residences, disability facilities, correctional facilities, homeless and domestic violence shelters.
“You are no longer required to wear a face mask in most indoor settings in the Northern Territory, but wearing a mask remains strongly recommended,” NT Health says on its website.
“You should wear a mask when you cannot physically distance from others.”
The state has a specific list of settings where masks are mandatory.
That includes health care services, pharmacies, disability care facilities and aged care homes.
It health and medical services and specialist health care services include hospital and general practices, medical practices, mental services and practices including drug services, allied practices, complementary and alternative therapy practices, including Chinese services, dental services, pathology clinics, sexual health clinics, radiology services, disability and rehabilitation services.
People in the island state must only wear a mask if they have COVID-19 or are a close contact outside their home.
People who emerge from their five days of COVID isolation must wear a mask in all indoor settings until the seventh day after their diagnosis.
Masks are not required in other situations, but authorities state some places such as hospitals might request people wear masks.
“Please be respectful and carry a mask with you in case you need to wear one,” the Tasmanian Department of Health says.
Mask mandates will be scrapped on public transport and rideshares in the state from 11.59pm on Thursday 22 September.
Masks are also required in “sensitive settings” such as hospitals, and if you have COVID or are a close or household contact and are not required to quarantine – for example, because you have tested negative on a rapid antigen test.
New South Wales
With Wednesday’s removal of the public transport mandate, people in NSW older than 12 are only required to wear masks in public hospitals, private health facilities and residential aged care.
Close COVID contacts are instructed to wear masks in indoor settings outside their homes.
– With additional reporting by Warren Barnsley
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