The Territory government is in the process of consulting workers and unions over a likely end to the public transport mask mandate in just over a week.
It’s expected masks on buses and light rail will no longer be required from the end of the month (30 September) when the ACT’s public health emergency is scheduled to end.
NSW commuters will no longer need to wear a mask onboard from Wednesday (21 September) and the mandate was dropped in South Australia on Tuesday (20 September).
Throughout the pandemic, the ACT’s and NSW’s public health settings have largely remained in alignment with each other.
However, there have been multiple occasions where NSW has jumped ahead of the Territory.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet described the change as a “common-sense approach” that brought rules for bus and train travel in line with the rules for planes and airport terminals.
Masks stopped being mandatory on domestic flights on 9 September following a decision at National Cabinet by state and territory leaders. Masks had been mandatory on planes since August 2021.
NSW Health recommends that people wear masks where they cannot physically distance themselves from others and in settings where there are vulnerable people and those at high risk of severe illness.
In the Territory, face masks are mandatory in high-risk settings like hospitals, residential aged care facilities and correctional centres.
The Australian Medical Association has criticised the piecemeal way states and territories have dropped mask mandates, calling the move a “major decision which will have consequences”.
Victoria continues to require masks on public transport.
The ACT’s public health emergency declaration has been in force since March 2020, when it was enacted for an initial period of five days.
A number of other public health rules, including the requirement for a positive COVID-19 case to quarantine and for businesses to develop a COVID-19 safety plan, are currently in force under the emergency declaration.
Those rules will either need to be reinstated under different legislative arrangements or they will come to an end at the end of the month.
ACT Health has yet to confirm precisely what the arrangements will be beyond this date.
Special pandemic management laws, which can be enacted for 90 days at a time, will remain in place beyond 30 September. These will allow the government to essentially step down from an emergency but continue to manage the impacts of the pandemic. For example, the Health Minister will be able to regulate gatherings, mandate face masks and check-ins, and record-keeping requirements.
The Chief Health Officer will also have the power to be able to direct positive cases and their close contacts to quarantine or isolate.