Why some Aussie experts are opposing Covid mask mandates

Fresh calls to reintroduce mask mandates amid an eighth Covid wave have been rejected by some of the country’s leading experts.

Professor Peter Collignon, an Infectious Diseases physician and microbiologist at the Canberra Hospital has opposed a return of the rule, after Queensland doctors called on the state government to mandate masks in hospitals and on public transport.

Australian Medical Association Queensland president Maria Boulton has also encouraged people to wear masks in public places and urged the state’s chief health officer to guide the community on how to avoid “another disastrous Christmas”.

In a post on X, Professor Collignon wrote: “If at increased risk, or concerned, yes wear a mask. But no mandates.”

He also said he doesn’t believe Christmas Covid cases will be “bad”.

“The current wave likely already declining and will be down to low levels by Xmas.”

In a separate post, he added there was “little or likely no point” wearing a mask outside and said masks will give “some short term protection” to those who are concerned about short term exposure indoors, but eye protection is also needed.

“What lands in your eyes goes into your nose,” he said.

Professor Collignon isn’t the only expert to reject a return of the mandate.

Dr Nick Coatsworth told Today masks only work if worn in conjunction with other measures such as “social distancing and movement restrictions” which he assured “we are not going back to”.

“We don’t need to go back to masks,” he said.

Addressing the AMA’s call, he said “The Australian Medical Association has quoted 245 hospitalisations of COVID-19 with this (current) wave in Queensland, but there are over a million admissions to Queensland hospitals every year.”

Instead, he wanted to reassure the public that “vaccination works” and said there were ways to manage the hospital pressure including virtual care clinics.

“COVID-19 is now a milder disease because of what we call herd immunity, we have all been exposed to it.”

However, others have supported the return of masks, with Professor Kerryn Phelps, the former Deputy Sydney Lord Mayor, arguing a “significant” Covid surge is currently taking place.

“Covid is airborne. N95 masks reduce transmission risk,” she wrote on X

It comes as 6550 Covid cases were reported across the country on October 24.

According to Covid Live, there were 749 active Covid cases in Queensland on November 10, compared to 1637 in NSW and 1,393 in Victoria.

Queensland’s health chiefs won’t back the call

Queensland health chiefs have since confirmed the state won’t bring back “disproportionate” mask mandates, saying any approach must be “consistent with the risk.”

“We do have a wave, but these waves are getting milder,” Queensland Health chief health officer Dr John Gerrard said on Wednesday afternoon.

“I am making no general recommendation about mask wearing in public, or in healthcare facilities; that would be disproportionate to the level of risk.

He said individual healthcare facilities can determine their own need for masking, which will vary.

He also recommended anyone over the age of 65 who is not up to date with the Covid vaccine booster to get one before the end of the year.

“It’s particularly important in aged care, and that message is not getting through … I am concerned about aged care facilities, because I think there is some slippage there, so I would encourage relatives to get their relatives vaccinated.”

Meanwhile in South Australia, the Lyell McEwin and Modbury hospitals in northern Adelaide have made face masks mandatory for staff and visitors, amid the state’s 2,493 active cases.

In Victoria, hospitals have been allowed to enforce mask mandates if they choose, after the state’s healthcare system moved to a “stage two operational response” earlier this month.

Under the state two system, hospital can ask staff to wear N95 masks, mandate visitor masks and increase telehealth services, among other measures.

In Western Australia, where there are 231 active Covid cases, experts have warned concertgoers to mask up amid an upcoming Coldplay concert in Perth this weekend.

“It’s a very simple principle,” University of Western Australia epidemiologist Zoe Hyde told the Sydney Morning Herald.

“If you don’t breathe the virus in you’re not going to get sick.”

– With NCA Newswire

Originally published as ‘No point’: Backlash over push to bring back masks

Cristeen Gonzama

Cristeen Gonzales writes about health and medicine. She tends toward stories that reveal the on-the-ground impact of health policy, with a particular focus on the opioid epidemic, Covid-19 and abortion.

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