NSW Health issues new mask advice ahead of the weekend

Strongly encouraged: NSW Health wants people to wear a mask when they cannot social distance but has again stopped short of making them mandatory. Picture: Sylvia Liber.
Strongly encouraged: NSW Health wants people to wear a mask when they cannot social distance but has again stopped short of making them mandatory. Picture: Sylvia Liber.

NSW Health has today called on people to wear masks whenever they are unable to physically distance, particularly in indoor settings, but has again stopped short of making them compulsory.

It comes after the NSW government earlier this week said it was "strongly encouraging" the use of masks in high-risk public settings, including supermarkets, to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.

The advice was issued by NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant on Sunday and reiterated by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian the following day.

NSW Health said today masks were a "helpful addition in the fight against COVID-19 if used correctly" and strongly encouraged people to wear one "to keep everyone safe".

But NSW Opposition Leader Jodi McKay is calling for masks to become mandatory and says the government has not acted because there are not enough masks.

"The reason why masks are not mandatroy is because they do not have a stockpile to get us through," she said.

NSW Health said there were more than 88 million surgical masks in the current NSW government stock for healthcare workers and "community members can purchase disposable or reusable masks, or make cloth masks themselves".

Dr Chant said NSW Health would "continue to monitor the situation closely".

She said masks were recommended particularly in indoor settings such as on public transport, and anywhere people congregated, such as entertainment venues and places of worship.

She said they also offered protection if worn by staff in hospitality venues such as pubs, clubs and restaurants.

"By wearing a mask, you are protecting other people. If you are unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will reduce the chance that you pass the virus on to others," Dr Chant said.

"Physical distancing is still one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself," she said.

"Try to avoid crowds, but where physical distance cannot be maintained, wearing a mask is an important protective measure for other people, along with good hand hygiene."

She said people should always stay home if sick, and get tested early.

Dr Chant said it was important to take the following steps when wearing a mask:

  • wash or sanitise your hands before putting it on or taking it off
  • ensuring the mask covers your nose and mouth and fits snugly under your chin, over the bridge of your nose and against the sides of your face
  • refrain from touching the front of your mask while wearing or removing it
  • don't allow the mask to hang around your neck or under your nose
  • don't reuse single-use masks
  • wash and dry reusable masks after use and store in a clean, dry place.

Dr Chant said the effectiveness of cloth masks in blocking respiratory droplets varied, depending on the weave and number of layers, with at least two to three layers needed.

She said they also became "less effective as they become increasingly damp".

Masks should not be worn by young children or anyone who has trouble breathing or who is unable to remove the mask themselves without assistance.

According to a Health Advice Update on Masks issued Sunday, the government recommends the use of face masks in indoor settings where physical distancing is hard to maintain, such as on public transport or in supermarkets; or among staff where there is a higher risk of transmission, such as hospitality and customer-facing venues such as cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs.

Those attending places of worship are also being encouraged to wear a mask.

The health advice said wearing a mask while "not mandatory" was "highly recommended, especially in areas where there has been community transmission".

Ms Berejiklian said on Monday people should wear a mask "in certain environments" if they would "not maintain social distancing".

But she said a mask was not a substitute for physical distancing.

"However, if you find yourself in a situation where you can't maintain your physical distance, you should wear a mask," she said.

"It is critical the community understands masks should be used in conjunction with other measures, and not as a standalone measure."

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