Fresh calls for mask mandate in SA

·2-min read

A leading epidemiologist has called for South Australia to reimpose a mask mandate to help bring the current wave of COVID-19 infections under control.

Professor Adrian Esterman told a parliamentary committee on Friday that while the most recent wave of Omicron cases had peaked, measures were needed to lower the increasingly higher troughs between infection peaks.

That would help relieve the severe pressure on the health system, he said.

"If it was me in charge, I'd be introducing a face mask mandate," Prof Esterman said.

But he said a mandate would only work if there was better messaging around what types of masks to wear, as well as how to wear them and when to wear them.

"Surgical masks aren't as good as these P2 or N95 masks. Cloth masks simply don't work against these sub-variants," he said.

"Where's that messaging? It's not there."

Despite his calls, Chief Public Health Officer Nicola Spurrier, who also appeared before the committee on Friday, continued to oppose a mandate.

"Masks are only one part of our mitigation strategy," she said.

"We all know that masks can help and it reduces the transmission potential by about 10 per cent.

"The higher the rate of mask-wearing the better for everybody."

But Professor Spurrier said SA also needed to have a legislative ability to impose a mandate, and that was no longer the case with the lifting of the emergency declaration.

"I do feel it is an opportunity for us as a state, to see how we go with strong messaging so that people are really understanding why they're doing it rather than it being there as a rule," she said.

"Because we're going to get further waves and we're going to need to ask and call upon people to wear masks again."

Prof Spurrier said SA Health's views on a mask mandate or reimposing other social measures, such as density limits, could change should a more severe virus variant emerge.

"That might be a time that we would say, clearly we are going to need to do more at the prevention end and we can't be just focusing on the hospital end," she said.

"It is very hypothetical because we don't know what the variants are going to be and we don't know what the vaccines are going to look like."

Friday's committee hearing came as SA reported another 3148 COVID-19 cases as well as eight more deaths.

There are 341 in hospital with the virus including 11 in ICU.

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