The Deputy Chief Health Officer says Australians do not have to wear face masks, adding people who wore them could be putting themselves in more danger of contracting the coronavirus by doing so.
Professor Paul Kelly told reporters on Saturday the government was not recommending face masks be worn as it could place additional strain on stock levels for health care workers.
He also argued that even if there was an unlimited supply, people should still avoid using face masks as it could actually increase their likelihood of contracting COVID-19.
“Using a mask incorrectly can actually make it more dangerous. If you are not used to wearing a mask, it can become quite uncomfortable, even claustrophobic, and indeed it can become quite itchy underneath the mask,” Prof Kelly said.
“So touching a surface with the virus then scratching yourself underneath the mask in fact could increase your risk rather than decrease your risk.”
He explained if the government’s advice changed in the future, there would need to be a “strong conversation about how to fit a mask properly and how to use it safely and effectively”.
US residents told to wear face masks
Prof Kelly’s advice followed the recommendation from the US’s Centers for Disease Control (CDC) for people to wear masks when travelling through the community.
“The CDC is advising the use of non-medical cloth face covering as an additional voluntary public health measure,” President Donald Trump said.
Despite the advice, Mr Trump confessed he had no intention of wearing a mask himself, reiterating it was “voluntary” and not a mandatory measure being enforced by the government.
Prof Kelly addressed the highly publicised announcement by the CDC on Friday (US local time), but stressed this was not the same advice being issued to Australians.
“I would stress again, at the moment we do not think that is a good idea, partly because of that constraint supply. But also the effectiveness in relation to people walking around with masks,” he said.
The Deputy Chief Health Officer added that anyone concerned about potentially having COVID-19 should contact their GP or hospital ahead of time if they plan to visit.
As of Saturday afternoon, there are now more than 5500 confirmed coronavirus cases in Australia and 30 deaths.
Prof Kelly said it could take between two and three weeks to see the results of the strict self isolation and social distancing measures on the overall number of cases.
But there was “good news” as “daily increases are definitely less than they were a week or so ago”, he said.
Do you have a story tip? Email: email@example.com.