Dr Kerry Chant has urged NSW residents to wear masks when they can’t socially distance even though it’s not mandatory.
The Chief Health Officer said residents should be considerate and wear a mask when they enter a shop or a crowded indoor public space.
She made the comments in a press conference in Sydney on Tuesday as health officials brace for a winter wave of Covid-19 with two more-infectious sub-strains of the Omicron variant on the loose.
‘We have to create an enabled environment to say that actually wearing a mask is an okay thing to do,’ Dr Chant said.
Dr Kerry Chant has urged NSW residents to wear masks when they can’t socially distance even though it’s not mandatory
Currently masks are only mandatory on public transport in NSW but the rule is loosely followed and barely enforced.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he does not plan to extend mask mandates because he wants life to be as normal as possible.
‘I do look back at the lockdown phase with concern that we had to go down that path,’ he said.
‘I would certainly not want to be seeing mandatory orders again in place for a whole range of reasons. I think that if you look at the mental health issues.’
He said residents should take ‘personal responsibility’ for protecting themselves from getting sick.
‘Go back to the basic messages. Wear a mask if you can’t socially distance, definitely wash your hands, wash your hands as much as you possibly can, and stay home if you’re sick,’ he said.
The two subvariants of the Omicron strain – known as BA.4 and BA.5 – are becoming dominant in Australia.
The strains – identified early this year in South Africa – are more transmissible than the original Omicron strain but have not caused more deaths or severe illness.
Mr Hazzard said: ‘What we’re seeing at the moment is BA.4 and BA.5 are increasing in the proportion of people who are getting Covid.
‘And they’re having an effect which is concerning maybe similar to what we saw in January this year, when we had more than 6,000 staff furloughed out of our hospital system.’
The Chief Health Officer said residents (pictured) should be considerate and wear a mask when they enter a shop or a crowded indoor public space
Mr Hazzard urged the 30 per cent people who have not had a booster to get it and described those turning it down as ‘crazy’.
He is also pushing for vaccine advisory body ATAGI to approve fourth doses for the general population when it meets on Wednesday.
‘I actually raised the issue at the health ministers’ meeting last Thursday and Friday… my view is we need to broaden it and we need to move quickly,’ he said.
‘Let’s get a fourth dose if we can do it.’
However, leading experts are not convinced further doses of existing vaccines will help stop infections.
Writing in The Conversation on Monday, University of South Australia Professor of Epidemiology Adrian Esterman said existing vaccines are ‘unlikely’ to protect against infection with the new strains.
‘Although current vaccines based on the Wuhan strain will still provide some protection against serious illness and death against BA.4/5, they are unlikely to provide much, if any, protection against infection or symptomatic disease,’ he said.
Professor Esterman said Moderna’s second-generation vaccine, which is currently in trials, would be much better against the latest subvariants.
Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said just last month there was no evidence a fourth dose of existing vaccines would help.
‘The benefits of the vaccine for younger people do not warrant the decision that they have a fourth dose made available to them,’ he told reporters in Canberra on June 23.
‘There’s a general acceptance that there’s no evidence right now that the fourth dose is particularly called for for younger people who don’t have compromised immunity.’
Vaccine rollout data shows Australians are less willing to get third and fourth jabs now that lockdowns are over and jab mandates have been largely removed.
More than 95 per cent have had at least one dose but 70.5 per cent of Aussies have had a third jab.
Pictured: A 3D mock-up of the BA.4 variant of the Omicron strain of Covid-19
The figure is even less for fourth jabs which have been taken up by only 58.7 per cent of Aussies over 65.
Experts are warning of a winter wave as people spend more time indoors in close proximity during cold and wet weather.
There were 26 deaths from Covid recorded on Monday, as the national total death toll passed 10,000 earlier this month.
Hospitalisations have also reached 3,511 across the country, the highest levels since February during the height of the Omicron wave.
Nearly 30,000 infections were reported nationally on Monday alone, with experts warning case numbers will climb even further as winter progresses.
Some states and territories are weighing up whether to reintroduce mask mandates, as Covid-19 cases spiral across the country.
Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said talks were ongoing on whether mask rules would return in some settings in the Sunshine State.
DOCTOR PUSHES FOR COVID MASK MANDATE
Prominent Sydney doctor Kerryn Phelps has called for two major Covid measures to be re-introduced to stop the spread of the virus.
Dr Phelps told Radio 2GB on Tuesday that mask mandates should be reintroduced and isolation periods should be extended back to 10-14 days.
The isolation period for a Covid patient in NSW is currently seven days.