Health minister warned against mask mandates amid third wave of COVID
The vice-chairman of Australia’s leading doctors’ group has warned against excluding mask mandates amid fresh warnings about a new deadly wave of COVID-19.
Health Minister Mark Butler said on Sunday the antiviral drugs would be made available to older Australians, but he had not been told the broad mask mandates would have to be returned.
But Chris Moy, vice president of the Australian Medical Association, said The new daily the federal government risked undermining public health messages on the current wave of COVID, which according to government figures is infecting nearly 37,000 Australians a day.
“They shouldn’t exclude them because it undermines messaging,” Dr Moy said.
“All patients hear is the government refusing to consider mask mandates over anything about how masks are incredibly positive in reducing the speed of spread for relatively little inconvenience compared other restrictions.”
Dr Moy said qualifying statements suggesting people could choose to wear masks were drowned out by the government’s main message that they would not be introduced.
More broadly, he said government decisions contradict each other: some increasing the public health response to COVID and others decreasing it.
“People are getting mixed messages about serious concerns about the next wave of COVID,” he said.
“On the one hand [it is the] urgency of the fourth injections and widening of the criteria for antivirals, but on the other hand a refusal of the government to extend payments for telehealth (consultations) and COVID (isolation).
Experts expect the new wave of BA4 and BA5 sub-variants to peak only at the end of this month or the beginning of the next.
Butler said on Sunday that the federal government’s response will extend to making antiviral drugs available to people over the age of 70 who contract the virus.
“COVID-19 can be very serious for adults in high-risk groups, even when fully vaccinated,” Butler told the ABC on Sunday.
The drugs will also be available to people over the age of 50 who have relevant risk factors that predispose them to serious COVID infections and Indigenous people over the age of 30.
Mr Butler said around 1.3 million courses of Paxlovid and Molnupiravir had been ordered by the previous government, but low usage rates had raised concerns that the antivirals could expire before they were distributed.
“They’ve been sitting in warehouses rather than going to people actually doing their jobs,” he said.
Mr Butler said there were 4,000 people currently hospitalized with the virus, but said he had not received evidence that the wearing of masks should again be enforced in public.
“There is no advice to me that we should introduce broad-based mask mandates,” he said.
“Directors of Health [from the states and federal governments] met in recent days and there was [no] such advice given by them.
“I think the general opinion is that this phase of pandemic mask mandates and things like that are best done in a targeted way.
“There are mask mandates in aged care, in healthcare facilities, on public transport, on airplanes.
“If you find yourself in a crowded indoor space with no ability to socially distance, you should seriously consider wearing a mask.”
Mask mandates are usually the purview of state governments; it remains mandatory to wear a mask when using public transport in New South Wales, Victoria, Western Australia, the ACT and Queensland, although media have suggested such rules are often not approved.
The Australian Health Protection Principal Committee, a body made up of top state health officials, warned on Friday that the current third wave of Omicron infections could overwhelm community health services and the hospital system.
“We expect this wave to lead to a substantial increase in infections, hospitalizations and, unfortunately, deaths, at a time when our communities and health systems are already under strain,” the organization said in a statement. .
Mr Butler said on Sunday the government was standing by its decision to end emergency payments to casual workers to provide for times when they could not work due to isolation requirements following a COVID diagnosis.
Unions have criticized the ending of pandemic leave payments and said it runs counter to workers’ rights, but also to broader public health goals.
“This decision will force workers to work while they are sick, which we have known from the early days of the pandemic is a sure way to spread the virus faster and put more people at risk,” the president said. from CUTA, Michele O’Neil.
Mr Butler said the emergency payments could not be continued indefinitely, but the government reserved the right to change tactics as the current wave of Omicron and winter progressed.