Shoppers may be forced to wear a face mask while browsing NSW retail stores this Christmas season — and perhaps for even longer.
Current mask rules for the state, which has 92 per cent of its eligible population fully vaccinated, require the coverings to be worn in indoor venues, shops and apartment common areas.
Such rules are expected to remain in place only until December 15 or when the 95 per cent fully vaccinated milestone is reached.
From that point masks are only required for public transport, planes and airports, and indoor front-of-house hospitality staff.
However, The Daily Telegraph understands NSW health officials are urging the NSW government to prolong mask wearing in some settings beyond the 95 per cent milestone.
The publication has reported that health officials are concerned about retail settings in particular as crowds pack shops in the lead-up to Christmas.
Senior ministers will discuss mask requirements and the subsequent rules during a Thursday subcommittee meeting, The Daily Telegraph reported.
In a statement to Yahoo News Australia on Wednesday, a NSW Health spokesperson declined to confirm if such behind the scenes talks were in the works.
“NSW Health is constantly monitoring the evolving Covid-19 situation and updates its advice to Government accordingly,” the spokesperson said, adding that “the health and safety of the people of NSW is our foremost priority.”
“Masks are an important line of defence in the fight against Covid-19 and provide additional protection and public health benefits even in the context of high rates of vaccination.
“Masks are a relatively simple and accessible public health measure and are particularly effective in indoor settings.”
The NSW Health spokesperson said wearing masks indoors and on public transport “provides an important layer of protection from Covid-19 transmission, as it does in other settings where physical distancing may not be possible or is difficult to achieve.”
“The use of masks and other protective measures, such as hand hygiene and physical distancing, remain important tools as we transition from the pandemic to endemic phase of Covid-19,” the spokesperson said.
“In this phase of the pandemic, the onus is on every one of us to keep each other safe, especially our most vulnerable.”
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard told The Daily Telegraph given Covid cases are soaring in Europe once again, health officials’ concerns are “understandable”.
“At times like the mad retail rush we’ll see at Black Friday and Christmas it becomes pretty clear why Health will be likely to have continuing concerns,” he said.
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