Is it time to put your masks away — or throw them away?
Commuters will no longer be required to wear masks on public transport in all but one Australian jurisdiction from Wednesday.
WATCH THE VIDEO ABOVE: Debate rages on over the need for masks on public transport.
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NSW and Queensland joined South Australia, Western Australia, Tasmania, ACT and the Northern Territory in not requiring passengers to dress up on public transport.
NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet says it’s a sensible approach to bring rules in line for travelers on buses, trains, rideshare, taxis and planes.
NSW Health continues to recommend that people wear masks when they cannot physically distance themselves and in settings where there are vulnerable people.
Queensland Health Secretary Yvette D’Ath is urging commuters to wear masks where necessary.
“There are still instructions. If you are someone who has been isolated, after your five days you will be asked to wear masks,” she said.
Only in Victoria will passengers on public transport be required to wear a mask unless they have a valid exemption, with a $100 fine for dissenters.
But not everyone is happy — especially those dealing with COVID-19 patients.
Australian Medical Association President Steve Robson said governments would continue to make serious decisions without consultation and without debate.
“This is an important decision that will have consequences and it should have been made with national consensus and clear health guidance,” he said.
“Masks protected us from infection when we didn’t have a vaccine, and they continue to be an effective, inexpensive, uncomplicated and proven way to protect ourselves and others.”
Robson said COVID is still very serious, especially for vulnerable populations, and deadly for many people.
“Restrictions are being eased, including time in isolation, and we still have no indication that this is based on medical evidence,” he said.
He also noted that the decision came at a time when worrying data was still being released, including in elderly care.
“Many of our most vulnerable people in the community use public transportation the most,” he said.
“Masks are the last sensible protection and we urge people not to go without them.”
However, there is growing optimism that the pandemic could soon be over.
Last week, the World Health Organization reported that global deaths from COVID-19 were the lowest since March 2020.
The United Nations organization believes the world has never been in a better position to end the COVID-19 pandemic and is urging countries to step up their efforts against the virus that has killed more than 6 million people , to continue
“We’re not there yet. But the end is in sight,” said WHO Director-General Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus.
The United Nations agency’s comment has been its most optimistic since it declared COVID-19 an international emergency in January 2020 and began describing it as a pandemic three months later.
The virus, first detected in China in late 2019, has killed nearly 6.5 million people and infected 606 million, disrupting the global economy and overwhelming healthcare systems.
Mask requirement across Australia
The mask requirement for public transport, ridesharing and domestic flights was relaxed on September 9th.
However, masks are still mandatory in “high-risk environments” such as hospitals, health clinics, correctional facilities, aged care facilities and disability services.
People are “encouraged” to wear masks in crowded indoor spaces “to help protect vulnerable members of the community”.
The Sunshine State allowed public transit commuters — as well as carpool passengers — to remove their masks on Wednesday, September 21.
However, according to Queensland Health, there are mandates for health facilities, residential aged care and shelters for the disabled.
There is also an obligation for people outside their home to wear a mask if they have COVID or COVID symptoms, are awaiting COVID test results, are in close contact with a COVID case, or have a temperature of 37.5C or have more.
The area updated its rules Monday, requiring people 12 and older to wear a mask in hospitals, healthcare facilities, nursing homes, facilities for the disabled, correctional facilities, homeless shelters and domestic violence shelters.
“You are no longer required to wear a face mask in most indoor areas in the Northern Territory, but wearing a mask is still strongly encouraged,” NT Health says on its website.
“You should wear a mask if you cannot physically distance yourself from others.”
The state has a specific list of settings where masks are mandatory.
These include health services, pharmacies, facilities for the disabled and nursing homes for the elderly.
It specifies that health services include hospitals, general practices, specialist medical services and practices, mental health services and practices including drug and alcohol services, related health services, complementary and alternative therapy services and practices including Chinese medicine practitioners, dental services, clinics for Pathology, Sexual Health Clinics, Radiology Services, Disability and Rehabilitation Services.
People in the island nation are only required to wear a mask if they have COVID-19 or have close contact outside of their home.
People emerging from their five-day COVID isolation must wear a mask in all indoor spaces until the seventh day after their diagnosis.
In other situations, masks aren’t required, but authorities say some places, like hospitals, might require masks to be worn.
“Please be respectful and carry a mask with you in case you need to wear one,” says the Tasmanian Department of Health.
An outlier from the rest of the country, a mask requirement for public transit and ridesharing remains in the state.
Masks are also required in “sensitive environments” such as hospitals.
With the lifting of the public transport mandate on Wednesday, people in NSW over the age of 12 will only be required to wear masks in public hospitals, private health facilities and residential aged care.
Close COVID contacts are instructed to wear masks indoors outside of their homes.
– With additional reporting by Warren Barnsley
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