24 February 2022

To mask or not to mask? The rules explained

| Lottie Twyford
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Chief Minister Andrew Barr MLA

From 6 pm tonight, indoor mask rules will be all but scrapped, although health authorities strongly recommended they continue to be worn. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

From 6 pm tonight (25 February), the ACT’s indoor mask mandate will be lifted with masks only required in a few select, high-risk settings.

But despite the legal, enforceable requirement to wear a mask coming to an end, health authorities are encouraging Canberrans to continue wearing them, so don’t throw them away just yet.

Here’s what you need to know.

Where will masks still be mandated?

In the following settings:

  • On public transport, including buses, light rail, taxis, rideshare and demand response vehicles. Drivers will also need to wear them.
  • An employee or visitor in a high-risk setting, including hospitals, residential aged care facilities, correctional facilities, or residential accommodation facilities.
  • As a worker who provides services to a person with a disability.
  • As a worker for in-home and community aged care providers.
  • As a staff member or visitor in all indoor spaces at a school or early childhood education and care setting. High school students (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.
Canberra Centre

Masks are recommended in indoor settings, even after the mandate is dropped. Photo: Thomas Lucraft.

Where are masks “strongly recommended”?

Basically, everywhere.

The best advice is that masks should still be worn in places where maintaining physical or social distance is either impossible or extremely challenging.

Think busy shopping centres, cafes, bars or restaurants and supermarkets.

Are businesses still allowed to make their own mandates?

Yep. And they are especially important in places where businesses serve customers or clients who may be vulnerable. For example, you might be asked to wear one in a GP surgery or pharmacy.

Kerryn coleman

ACT Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman said public health decisions are a balancing act between human rights and health settings. Photo: Michelle Kroll.

Why lift the mandate if we are still asked to wear a mask?

As you’ve probably gathered by now, the end of the mask mandate shouldn’t be taken to signify the end of the advice to wear a mask.

Chief Health Officer Dr Kerryn Coleman was asked why bother lifting the mandate at all. Her answer was that it’s a “balancing act”.

Throughout the pandemic, health authorities in the ACT have often spoken about the need to weigh up the human rights impacts of a mandate with public health. Right now, they say the stable COVID-19 situation in the ACT means the mandate can be lifted.

It doesn’t mean all risk is gone, however, and that’s why it’s still strongly recommended people keep the masks on.

Dr Coleman said the community has also proven to be adept at coming on board and following public health advice – even when it’s not ‘mandated’.

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Is this the end of the masks for good?

Probably not.

Yesterday’s announcement of eased restrictions came with a warning from Minister for Health Rachel Stephen-Smith – if needed, the masks will be back.

“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.”

Forward planning is underway to help the ACT manage a potential spike of COVID-cases in winter, which could be combined with a flu outbreak.

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What’s happening in NSW and Victoria?

NSW and ACT are now following the same path. The major difference between NSW and the ACT will be that in NSW, masks will be scrapped entirely for students at staff at schools from next Monday (28 February).

From tomorrow, masks will be mandatory in settings like public transport, hospitals and aged care facilities.

Similarly, in Victoria, from 11:59 pm tomorrow, masks will be lifted in almost all indoor settings.

The mandate will remain in place in settings like public transport and hospitals, as well as for workers in hospitality and retail.

Primary school students from year three upwards will also still be required to wear a mask in the classroom, which the Victorian Government attributed to a lagging vaccination rate in that age group.

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It’s almost like the virus is spreading differently in different populations and that the different jurisdictions are exercising their autonomy to determine their own risk appetites and tolerances. So hard to understand.

Anne,
Whilst you are correct, that just puts the lie to each of the governments claims that they are just following the science or medical advice.

They lose the ability to argue that their position is objectively correct rather than just a subjective position based on politics.

Just got to get this right. If it is a full moon on a Tuesday and there is a south westerly breeze and and a fox howls in the distance then I should wear the green mask. If not then I should wear the red mask. Should I shop wearing the black mask and a cape? Dr Coleman is right. What was the medical term she used? A “balancing act”. I am convinced. I think I will wear the mask anyway.

I love the fact that in NSW no kids at school have to wear masks, in ACT only high school kids have to wear masks indoors and in Victoria only kids in years 3-6 have to wear masks indoors… I’m not a very bright human being but even I think I can see there may be a few differences here…

CaptainSpiff1:24 pm 25 Feb 22

Absurd indeed. Kids are in the lowest risk category for Covid too, with or without vaccines.

Why is it dangerous not to wear a mask at 5pm today, but ok at 6pm? If you want to wear a mask, even for the rest of your life, go ahead, noone is stopping you. But the benefits of a mask, apart from improving the personal appearance of some people, is non existent in our healthy, vaccinated society. Time to reclaim our lives from the over protective nannies, so reluctant to relinquish their bureaucratic power and status. Stuff your mandates and masks. Push the boundaries.

I doubt that those within the scientific community would agree with you that the value of masks
is non-existent in our healthy, vaccinated society.
Wearing masks can reduce transmission of the virus by 53%, according to a worldwide study that’s been posted to the NSW Health website.

I think the other thing you are misconstruing is the “healthy vaccinated society” bit. You might be healthy
but is it your neighbour, your mother or your grandmother?

That said, I’m pleased that you are now free from the protections of the Nanny State.

Hopefully, you’ll never need to catch public transport, go to the GP or visit someone in the hospital etc, because if you do, you’ll be masking up again!

Actually, the comment you made – “I doubt that those within the scientific community would agree with you that the value of masks is non-existent in our healthy, vaccinated society” is actually not correct.

In this country there is a distinct split, even articles written about, the various arguments being made amongst the scientific community and public health community for or against measures and how the fundamental principles of public health – proportionality and the social determinants of health, are being overlooked.

As a start Professor Fiona Russell (based at Murdoch Children’s Research Institute and a paediatrician as well as an epidemiologist) regularly links to data both in Australia and Internationally that demonstrate even without mask mandates that cases are decreasing within schools.

The study you quote in regards to wearing masks reducing the virus by 53% looked at many studies around the world in all types of contexts not just schools, and in all age ranges not just children.

We now have data on the effectiveness of mask wearing in schools amongst students, so the research you refer to is not the best to look at, more specific school/classroom based studies with this age group are more relevant.

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