Chief medical officer announces new stance on face masks - with a warning

Australians who can't avoid using public transport at peak times should consider wearing masks to stop the spread of coronavirus.

The nation's top medical officials have stopped short of recommending people wear masks, but say they may choose to do so in situations where it is not feasible to maintain a 1.5m distance from others.

"The (advisory committee) has recognised that in a crowded public transport situation people may choose to wear masks when they are really up close with other people," chief medical officer Brendan Murphy told reporters on Friday.

"We acknowledge that this is not an unreasonable thing to do, not that we're recommending it in the general community in Australia at the moment because of the low case numbers.

Prof Brendan Murphy said people may want to wear face masks on public transport if 1.5 metres can't be kept between them and other commuters. Source: AAP

"But if people do choose to wear masks they need to be careful as they are not a complete protection and they need to be worn very carefully."

Premiers and chief ministers have agreed to a set of principles on how public transport can operate safely as coronavirus restrictions ease.

Health officials advising them say it is still best for people to avoid public transport where possible, especially at peak times.

Travel times should be staggered and good hand hygiene kept up, Professor Murphy said, and people should definitely not use public transport if they are unwell.

Trains, buses and trams and their stops will be cleaned regularly, and most governments have installed some visual guides for where people should sit or stand to maintain physical distancing.

Continued calls for people to be tested

Professor Murphy urged Australians who were experiencing any kind of symptom consistent with an acute respiratory problem to be tested for COVID-19.

He said this was the only way health officials could continue to effectively track the virus and stay on top of outbreaks.

“We are doing 30,000 tests a day with a very low positivity rate of 0.05 per cent at the moment. We would still like to do more tests,” he told reporters on Friday.

“We would like every person with an acute respiratory problem, cough, cold, to get tested. It is the way to track the virus.

“Please get tested if you are unwell and stay home and practise the hygiene and distancing measures we talked about.”

He added that currently there were just two patients in the country still on ventilators, which was “a long way short of the 7,000 potential that we catered for in the worse-case scenario”.

The coming fortnight would reveal if it was safe for restrictions to continue being relaxed, which would be dependent on whether or not outbreaks could be controlled, Prof Murphy said.

“We do need to watch the data over the next one to two weeks - to make sure that we're not getting more than the expected small outbreaks that we do expect to see as we relax restrictions,” he said.

Public transport will be fitted with materials to help users maintain social distancing. Source: AAP

“We've got to be sure that we're not going to get a number of outbreaks or outbreaks that are hard to control. We don't expect to get them...but at this stage we do need to be cautious about saying that the relaxation of restrictions hasn't had a deleterious public health effect.”

‘Foolish’ to take coronavirus for granted: PM says

The prime minister also warned that it would be "foolish" to take the country's success against the coronavirus for granted.

"The risk remains great and always has been. Australia's success can lead some to think that perhaps the risk was never there in the first place. But that is not true," Scott Morrison told reporters.

"We would be foolish to think that we were immune.

"We only need to look at countries as sophisticated as ours, as developed as ours, with health systems as strong as ours, who have death rates 100 times of what has occurred in Australia."

Following the first national cabinet meeting in a fortnight, the PM announced an expected $131.4 billion investment by the Commonwealth with the states in a demand-driven public-hospital funding model.

With AAP

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