The former president of the Australian Medical Association has called for face masks to be made mandatory in NSW as she fears a substantial rise in community transmission of coronavirus throughout Sydney.
Dr Kerryn Phelps, a City of Sydney Councillor, resides in the Potts Point area where one of NSW’s largest active coronavirus clusters is centred and has been advocating the use of masks in public settings for weeks, saying NSW is “on a precipice”.
Appearing on the ABC’s Q&A on Monday evening, Dr Phelps urged state and federal governments to force Australians to wear masks in public places to enable NSW and the nation to tackle a surge in COVID-19 cases.
Dr Phelps fears cases are still being imported into NSW from Victoria, and questioned whether people on flights arriving from Melbourne were undergoing isolation on arrival.
“There’s 17 planes coming from Melbourne to Sydney tomorrow, that’s not a closed border, that’s a leaky sieve,” she told host Hamish Macdonald.
“We need to anticipate there will be a next wave in NSW... we need to head towards [masks] being compulsory.
“We know with aerosol airborne transmission now that wearing a mask is some of the best protection you can have. You protect yourself and you protect others.
“It is one of the single most responsible things that we can do as members of the community to protect each other.”
Nepean Hospital respiratory physician Lucy Morgan agreed, and said while masks in the early stages of the pandemic in Australia were rightly advised against due to low community transmission and the greater importance of hygiene and social distancing, she now believes masks should be “everywhere”.
“We should be wearing masks more and more,” she said.
Two weeks ago Dr Phelps issued an impassioned plea via a video on her Facebook page calling on residents in Sydney not to wait to be told by the state government to wear a mask, and proactively wear one when social distancing cannot be guaranteed.
Masks recommended in NSW but not mandatory
Over the weekend Premier Gladys Berejiklian said authorities would not enforce mask usage in NSW but had revised their recommendations to address four specific circumstances.
As well as in situations where social distancing is impossible, such as on public transport, masks should be worn in NSW by public-facing employees such as hospitality or supermarket workers, worshippers and residents of suburbs near clusters.
"We have been talking about masks for several weeks but obviously the persistent situation in Victoria gives us cause for alarm in terms of the potential for further seeding in NSW, and it is about risk mitigation strategy," Ms Berejiklian told reporters on Sunday.
"We're going to the next stage of assessing what else and how else we can decrease the risk and break the current chain coming through NSW."
However, Ms Berejiklian reiterated social distancing remained the first line of defence.
On Monday, NSW recorded 13 new coronavirus cases, with nine cases locally acquired – the first time the figure had dropped to single digits in a week.
17 planes arriving from Melbourne into Sydney tomorrow? That’s not a closed border. That’s a tinder box. https://t.co/czwjvzJBYM— Prof Kerryn Phelps AM (@drkerrynphelps) August 3, 2020
Since the recent surge in cases began with the Crossroads Hotel cluster in early July, locally acquired cases have never risen higher than 19 and has regularly sat around the mid teens.
NSW’s health authorities have regularly praised the state’s ability to contact trace the majority of cases back to a known source.
It is a factor they believe has helped the state contain clusters, unlike Victoria, whose contact tracing regime has come under fire as daily cases began to rise into the hundreds.
Masks are now mandatory across the entire state of Victoria in public places.
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