The ACT has recorded 1407 (720 PCR and 687 RAT) new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8 pm last night as calls for the reinstatement of a mask mandate grow louder.
The death of a man in his 70s with COVID-19 was also reported overnight, taking the Territory’s pandemic death toll to 85.
Of the 1407 cases, 176 were identified yesterday but were not included in yesterday’s release due to a technical issue.
The Rural Doctors Association of Australia and the Australian Medical Association ACT branch are now calling for a reinstatement of the indoor mask mandate.
RDAA president Dr Megan Belot said that with cases jumping nationally, it was critical to mandate mask-wearing to slow the spread of the virus.
“Wearing a mask is such a simple and cost-effective thing to do, yet most Australians have been reluctant to do so without governments making it a requirement,” she said.
“Peer pressure is playing a big part here in people choosing not to wear masks.”
But Chief Minister Andrew Barr has firmly shut the door on mandates saying the ACT was well-placed to manage this phase of the pandemic thanks to high-vaccination rates and good community engagement with public health measures.
“I don’t think a broad-based mask mandate is going to achieve what those who are calling for it want,” he said.
Mr Barr suggested the legality of a broader mandate than is currently in place could be called into question.
The Chief Minister also hit back at suggestions people needed to be told when to wear masks, saying if they couldn’t make the decision to do so in high-risk settings, they could not be helped by a mandate.
“People should make their own decisions – and many are – to not put themselves in high-risk settings or, if they are, to wear a mask,” he said.
“You don’t need a mandate to know when to wear a mask … we need to step up as a community and not expect that government should tell [people] what to do.”
Health authorities in the Territory lifted the indoor mask mandate for most settings in February this year, although they warned at the time it could be brought back if needed, particularly if this winter brings a spike in COVID-19 cases combined with a usual influenza season.
“The situation can change very quickly, and we’ve said throughout the pandemic that we will never say never,” Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith told reporters then.
But this approach seems to have changed.
The Federal Government has similarly been reluctant to impose stricter COVID-19 measures, with Prime Minister Anthony Albanese reportedly saying there were mental health considerations to take into account regarding mandating wearing a face mask.
However, local and federal authorities have “strongly encouraged” mask-wearing indoors.
Masks are mandatory in high-risk settings in the ACT, including public transport and healthcare facilities. Masks are also mandatory for high-risk individuals – such as close contacts of positive cases.
Mask rules were relaxed in public schools in May and Education Minister Yvette Berry has also stopped short of calling for them to be worn by school students.
She’s called for “common sense behaviour”.
Public school teachers must still wear masks when they cannot physically distance.
Catholic systemic schools have been directed to limit the movement of students and staff and limit staff being out of school at extra-curricular activities.
In a letter sent to parents earlier this week, Catholic Education director Ross Fox said most excursions, camps and many extra-curricular activities may not take place this term.
“The major priority is to maximise teacher time in class and minimise all extra school activities that will take staff out of the classroom and or out the school and expose students and staff to events and venues where they can be exposed to COVID-19,” he wrote.
Mr Fox said schools would be doing everything they could to keep their doors open and keep students on campus.
There are now 6570 (3657 PCR and 2913 RAT) known active infections in the Territory and a total of 182,330 (108,542 PCR and 73,788 RAT) COVID-19 cases have been recorded since the pandemic began in March 2020.
The double-dose vaccination rate for the ACT’s five-plus population remains 97.4 per cent and 77.7 per cent of residents aged 16 and older have received a booster.
Of ACT residents aged five to 11, 69.7 per cent have received two doses of vaccine.
Interstate, NSW has reported 25 deaths overnight and 13,829 new cases of COVID-19.
There are now 2210 people in hospital with the virus and 55 people in ICUs around the state.
Victoria has reported 37 deaths overnight and 14,312 cases of COVID-19.
There are now 875 people hospitalised with the virus and 46 patients are in the state’s intensive care units.