3 August 2020

Canberrans face up to wearing masks in public

| Michael Weaver
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Coles supermarket employee with mask and gloves

An employee at Coles in Manuka taking precautions during a transaction. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Canberrans are being prepared for the prospect of wearing a face mask out in public after ACT Chief Minister Andrew Barr and Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith issued a joint statement saying that while wearing masks was not currently mandatory, a situation may arise where that changes.

“ACT residents, particularly those unable to physically distance in their daily work or daily activities, are now encouraged to prepare for a time where wearing a face mask becomes another part of how we respond to the threat of COVID-19,” Mr Barr said.

“If we start to see cases in areas immediately surrounding the ACT, or we start to get new cases in Canberra, then wearing a face mask in public will feature as part of our response.

“Just like NSW, mask-wearing would be the fourth line of defence in Canberra. It would be in addition to physical distancing, hand hygiene and staying home if you are unwell.”

READ MORE Woolworths urges face masks for staff and customers at ACT stores

The ACT’s one remaining case of COVID-19 was declared free of the virus on Saturday (1 August); however, ACT residents are being put on notice that the risk of the virus returning is edging higher with daily increases in the number of active cases across NSW.

The NSW Premier and NSW Chief Health Officer have reiterated that NSW is now in a critical stage of its COVID-19 response.

The advice comes as Woolworths supermarket urged its customers to wear face masks in all its ACT stores from today (3 August) as part of a new response to combat the spread of COVID-19.

Sign at Liquorland Wanniassa

A sign of the times at Coles Wanniassa. Photo: Region Media.

A spokesperson for Canberra Health Services last week said the ACT has more than 18 months’ supply of surgical masks and there was no supply issue for face masks in Canberra.

“There is no current advice from the ACT Government to wear masks in Canberra as protection against COVID-19. However, should any Canberran wish to wear a mask, people can access them through retailers across the ACT,” CHS said.

“The ACT currently has enough N95 masks for hospital and health care workers to protect the workforce for up to six months at current utilisation rates (which are significant given current rates of testing across the Territory),” the spokesperson said.

A spokesperson for The Pharmacy Network in Canberra also said that while demand for face masks at their pharmacies was strong, they also had an adequate supply.

ACT Health said it is also taking steps to ensure that people with a health condition that makes them more vulnerable to getting sick and members of the public general public would have access to masks if the situation in the ACT worsened.

READ MORE: Face mask demand surges but supply is plentiful in the ACT

As of today (3 August), Canberra remains COVID-free and there is no evidence of community transmission of the virus.

“There is no current recommendation to wear face masks in the ACT,” an ACT Health spokesperson said today.

“Physical distancing, hand and respiratory hygiene, and staying at home if you are unwell continue to be our best defences against the spread of this virus.

“However, a situation may arise in the future where the wearing of face masks may provide an added benefit in reducing the risk of transmission in the community.

“Should we start to see a rapid growth in case numbers or outbreaks in the ACT or surrounding regions – particularly if those cases appear to be evidence of community transmission – then wearing face masks in enclosed public spaces where it is not possible to social distance will feature as a part of our public health response.”

Canberrans are also reminded that any travel to greater Sydney should be avoided unless it is absolutely essential, and any travel outside of the ACT should be carefully considered.

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We cannot spend the rest of our lives self isolating, socially distancing and cowering behind masks. Society can only temporarily avoid a virus. Trying to stop it won’t work and the measures taken are unsustainable. The more pragmatic response is to just accept its existence, get it eventually and get over it. Call it herd immunity or adapting to reality. The role of government is to do the greatest good for the greatest number, not to hand control over to people who foolishly think they can stop nature taking its course.

While I can sympathise to some degree with this viewpoint, would we as Australian citizens really be happy with 14,000 dying from COVID-19, which is what we could estimate to be the outcome had we adopted the ‘Swedish’ model on a per capita basis?Let alone if it turned out worse as it has in some other countries that have taken the laissez faire approach.

The problem Australia has now is we went down the containment approach, but we didn’t do what our cousins across the ditch did and went for full lockdown to eradication, then maintain closed borders until things are addressed overseas. We instead took a halfway house and are left with a messy situation as we have now, where flare-ups are inevitable.

HiddenDragon6:10 pm 03 Aug 20

“If we start to see cases in areas immediately surrounding the ACT, or we start to get new cases in Canberra, then wearing a face mask in public will feature as part of our response.”

Kerryn Coleman said something similar today – it sounded reasonable and nuanced, and consistent with the approach which the ACT Government has taken to date with virus rules for the general public.

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