UPDATED 1:30 pm: Despite today’s announcement the indoor mask mandate will largely be lifted from 6 pm on Friday, ACT health authorities have warned it will be back if needed.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith once again reiterated concerns about what this coming winter may bring in terms of a spike in COVID-19 cases, as well as a more normal flu season after two years of closed borders.
“The situation can change very quickly, and we’ve said throughout the pandemic that we will never say never,” she said.
“We will constantly be looking at the situation and taking the advice of the Chief Health Officer, Dr Kerryn Coleman.”
Ms Stephen-Smith and Dr Coleman both encouraged people to wear a mask in indoor places where social distancing is challenging or impossible.
Businesses are asked to consider whether mask-wearing for staff and visitors could remain a viable way to protect employees and clients.
Dr Coleman said this is particularly important if the business serves vulnerable clients.
She also said it’s difficult to predict if cases will rise once the mask mandate is lifted.
Authorities have also encouraged people to get their boosters once eligible, keep checking in when required to and practise good respiratory and hand hygiene.
The ACT’s mandatory face mask requirements will ease significantly from 6 pm this Friday (25 February).
There will also be adjustments to the mandatory reporting of rapid antigen test results.
The mask changes will further align the ACT with public health settings in both Victoria and NSW.
The government says masks are “strongly recommended”, but they will only be mandatory in the following settings:
- On public transport, including buses, light rail, taxis, rideshare and demand response vehicles
- An employee or visitor in a high-risk setting, including hospitals, residential aged care facilities, correctional facilities or residential accommodation facilities
- A worker who provides services to a person with a disability
- A worker for in-home and community aged care providers
- A staff member or visitor in all indoor spaces at a school or early childhood education and care setting. Students in years 7 to 12 are also required to wear a face mask while in an indoor space at school.
- Inside the Canberra Airport terminal or on a domestic flight in or out of Canberra Airport.
These changes bring the ACT into line with similar mask requirements in NSW and Victoria.
Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith said although public health social measures are further easing in the ACT, masks are still highly recommended to mitigate COVID-19 transmission.
“Canberrans are encouraged to continue wearing a face mask in public indoor settings, particularly where it may be difficult to maintain appropriate physical distancing,” she explained.
The government is also encouraging workplaces, particularly those who employ staff in customer-facing roles, to consider what mask-wearing policies they should implement for employees and visitors.
“This is particularly important … especially for those who are likely to be interacting with vulnerable community members,” Ms Stephen-Smith said.
Information to assist businesses, venues and organisations in developing and updating COVID Safety Plans can be found on the Business Hub.
Other changes will also come into effect from 11:59 pm on Friday.
It will now be mandatory for anyone who tests positive to a rapid antigen test (RAT) to report their result to ACT Health via the online form at covid19.act.gov.au.
They must also isolate for seven days, in the same way as those who test positive to a PCR test.
Anyone who tests positive, either by PCR test or RAT, is encouraged to take reasonable steps to notify any potential high risk or moderate risk contacts.
Also, from 11:59 pm on Friday, organisers of events with more than 2000 attendees will no longer be required to seek an exemption – as long as they are ticketed or attendees pre-register or use the Check In CBR app.
However, organisers of events for more than 5000 people will still need to submit their COVID Safety Plans for review by ACT Health.
As announced earlier this month, a new update to Check In CBR will be ready by the end of February. This will enable automated app notifications about potential COVID-19 exposures.
Updating the app is required to enable the new functionality.
More to come.