Coronavirus: When and where you need to wear a mask in Australia

Katherine Chatfield
·Columnist
·8-min read

Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison might be finally wearing one to do his shopping, but there are still plenty of mixed messages across the country about when to don masks.

Here’s everything you need to know about where you should be wearing a mask, and why it’s so important.

A man is seen wearing a mask while walking his dog as police officers and soldiers patrol Treasury Gardens in Melbourne. Source: Getty
The World Health Organisation advises that face coverings should be worn in public when social distancing is not possible. Source: Getty

Why do I need to wear a mask?

The World Health Organisation advises that face coverings should be worn in public when social distancing is not possible. This is because of increasing evidence that coronavirus is airborne, which means small particles linger in the air for people to breathe in. Face coverings can stop the virus being spread by people who have it, and stop people who aren’t infected from inhaling it.

Where do I need to wear one?

  • If you go to a COVID testing clinic anywhere in the country, face coverings are essential. Most centres will provide masks.

  • Many GPs will also ask you to wear a mask but check when you make an appointment what the rules are at your local surgery. Visitors to most hospitals are also required to wear face coverings.

  • Some shops (outside Victoria where face coverings are mandatory) are recommending but not mandating masks. However, all Apple stores across the country will turn customers away if they’re not wearing a face covering.

Victorian protective service officers are seen walking on patrol past a sign to urge people to stay home. Source: AAP
As of August 2, all Victorians must wear a face covering – either a face mask or a shield - when they leave their home. Source: AAP

Here are the rules, state by state:

Victoria

As of August 2, all Victorians must wear a face covering – either a face mask or a shield - when they leave their home. This includes travelling in a car with someone who is not in your household, and any time you are with people who are not in your household. If you don’t wear a mask, you’re at risk of a $200 fine.

You don’t need to wear a face covering if you are:

  • Driving on your own.

  • At home.

  • In a car with other members of your household.

The following people are exempt from face coverings:

  • Children under 12

  • If you are exercising and you are out of breath. You must wear a mask when walking, and put a face covering on as soon as you’ve finished exercising.

  • If you are leaving the house for an emergency.

  • People who have specific medical conditions that affect their breathing, or a mental health condition.

  • People who are deaf or hard of hearing.

  • When undergoing dental care or other medical procedures.

A member of the public wears a face covering as she shops in a grocery store. Source: AAP
NSW residents should wear masks while inside enclosed spaces such as grocery stores. Source: AAP

NSW

Although face coverings are not yet mandatory in NSW, Premier Gladys Berejiklian has described masks as “the fourth line of defence,” after getting tested, social distancing, and hand hygiene.

She has advised people should wear masks in four key circumstances;

Enclosed spaces such as public transport and supermarkets

“If you are in an enclosed space and you cannot guarantee social distancing, such as public transport, such as when you are buying groceries, you should be wearing a mask,” she said, adding: “I myself, when I next go grocery shopping, will be wearing a mask.”

Woolworths has advised that from August 3, all customers and staff in NSW, ACT and Queensland stores will be encouraged to wear face coverings. This includes Woolworths Metro Food Stores, Big W, Dan Murphy’s BWS and ALH hotels. However, it isn’t a mandatory requirement.

"Customers have the choice. If they don't [wear a mask], then that's fine, they are welcome in our stores," Woolworths CEO Brad Banducci said.

Coles, Bunnings and Kmart have also “strongly recommended” that all customers in NSW wear a face mask when entering their stores.

People wearing masks wait for a tram at Melbourne's Flinders Street Station. Source: Getty
NSW residents have been told to wear a mask on public transportation. Source: Getty

In customer service jobs

Masks are highly recommended for people working in customer-facing jobs. Woolworths is providing masks to employees and its executives will also wear masks.

“As the largest private sector employer with stores in almost every community, we feel it's important we lead the way in helping reduce community transmission of COVID-19," Mr Banducci said.

At places of worship

“If you are attending a place of worship, we want you to wear a mask. If you are attending a church, synagogue or mosque, we would like you to wear a mask,” Premier Berejikilian said.

In COVID-19 hotspots or areas of high community transmission

The federal government's Infection Control Expert Group chair Professor Lyn Gilbert has backed moves to introduce mask-wearing in areas of Sydney with signs of community transmission.

“We still warn that a mask is not a substitute for other precautions, but suggest that [it] is reasonable to use a mask and/or face shield in situations where community transmission is occurring and physical distancing cannot be maintained,” she said.

Nurses Tamzin Ingram and Skye Haagmans prepare for patients at the new CovidClinic at the Mount Barker Hospital in Adelaide. Source: AAP
Most hospitals in NSW are now asking visitors to wear face coverings. Source: AAP

Should I wear a mask when visiting someone in hospital?

Most hospitals in NSW are now asking visitors to wear face coverings. All staff are expected to wear masks.

Do I need to wear a mask when visiting family or friends?

This hasn’t been advised by the state government, but it’s still advised that people socially distance from those who don’t live in their household.

Should I wear a mask at work?

If you can’t remain at least 1.5 m from others, then yes. If you work in a customer facing industry, such as hospitality, then masks are advised. Masks should also be worn on the way to work if you’re travelling on public transport, or can’t stay 1.5m away from someone.

Queensland

You don’t need to wear a face mask unless your doctor has told you to or you are caring for someone who might have COVID-19,” the government has recommended.

People can be seen social distancing while waiting to get into a Bunnings store. Source: AAP
Woolworths and Bunnings are recommending customers in COVID hotspots wear masks before entering stores. Source: AAP

However, Woolworths and Bunnings are recommending customers in COVID hotspots wear masks before entering stores. The includes Bunnings stores in: Mt. Gravatt, Logan Rd, Underwood,Browns Plains, Loganholme, Bethania, Springfield Central, Cannon Hill, Indooroopilly, Rocklea, Oxley and Acacia Ridge.

Woolworths stores asking customers to wear masks include: Brookwater, Browns Plains, Browns Plains Westpoint, Chatswood Hill, Park Ridge, Springfield, Springwood, Sunnybank, Macarthur Chambers (Queen St), Buranda, Logan Central, Garden City, Spring Hill (Turbot St) and Acacia Ridge.

ACT

Advice from the ACT chief minister is that "Canberra is not an area of high community transmission and, therefore, the wearing of face masks is not currently a mandatory requirement," Andrew Barr said. However, Woolworths are still asking ACT customers to wear a mask in their stores.

South Australia

The only requirements for people to wear face coverings in South Australia is if they are returning to the state after visiting Victoria. Then people must wear a face mask when coming in to contact with others when leaving quarantine for testing.

Patrons line up to enter a festival at HBF Stadium on July 18 in Perth. Source: Getty
There are no current recommendations for face coverings in WA. Source: Getty

Western Australia

There are no current recommendations for face coverings in WA, but Premier Mark McGowan has said that he wouldn’t hesitate to mandate them if they had a spike in infections.

"If we got in that position, like Victoria or NSW, where we had community spread, we had hotspots, then I would expect we'd head down the road of requiring people to wear masks as well,” he said.

Northern Territory

Face masks aren’t recommended in the Northern Territory, but if you get on a flight with Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar or Rex, masks will be provided to customers, although it’s not compulsory to wear them. This is the same wherever in the country you board a flight.

Tasmania

State guidelines say that you need to wear a facemask if “you are unwell with COVID-19 symptoms and need to be around other people (for example, to access arranged medical care),” but there are no other recommendations around their use.

Passengers wearing face masks at Sydney Airport after arriving on a Jetstar flight. Source: Getty
If you get on a flight with Qantas, Virgin Australia, Jetstar or Rex, masks will be provided to customers. Source: Getty

Other countries across the world

In the UK, face coverings are mandatory on public transport and shops, and from August 8, will also have to be worn at funerals, cinemas, indoor entertainment venues, and beauty salons.

34 US states have now made it compulsory to wear masks in public, including New York, Washington, California and Hawaii.

Mask wearing is mandatory in public spaces in Hong Kong, Vietnam, United Arab Emirates and Venezuela, and in South Korea it’s compulsory on all public transport. In Morocco if you don’t wear a face covering in public, residents face a three-month prison sentence and a fine of around $130.

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