There are concerns over mixed advice regarding the wearing of masks in NSW as the state is hit by a surge in Covid-19 cases.
NSW recorded 1,360 new cases of coronavirus on Wednesday, the highest daily amount for over three months, as mandatory mask usage for indoor settings, not including public transport and airports, were scrapped.
Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant, wearing a mask, fronted the media on Wednesday after the caseload was announced. Neither the NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet nor Health Minister Brad Hazzard were seen wearing one during the outside press conference.
Dr Chant told reporters there has been “a rapid uptick in cases” and noted many are due to the Omicron variant seeding in Newcastle where there were 424 new cases on Wednesday.
“I would urge everyone to continue to wear masks in indoor environments,” she said.
“It’s a small price to pay.”
Kerry Chant urges people to wear masks
Dr Chant reminded people they are often infectious without having symptoms from coronavirus and called it a “simple” but “community-minded action”.
She also recommended people taking part in end of year social events do so in outdoor settings. After she finished speaking, she put her mask back on.
But she was later asked why the government decided to “wind back that restriction”.
“I’m providing the public health advice, which is masks are an effective mitigant whether it’s Omicron, Delta or the next variant,” Dr Chant said.
She said people are being asked “to take personal responsibility”.
“That’s a matter for government in setting those mandates, and all I’m saying is from a public health position I’m strongly recommending we keep masks and asking the community to do so,” Dr Chant said.
The premier was asked why the government chose not to keep the mask rule.
“Rules are mandatory in high-risk settings,” Mr Perrottet said.
“We’ve maintained that and we are highly recommending the continued use of masks particularly in circumstances where it’s difficult to socially distance.”
Mr Perrottet said the government “has taken the advice into account”.
He also encouraged people not to pay attention to daily case numbers and focus on hospitalisations. There are 166 people in hospital with Covid and 24 are in the intensive care unit. During the peak of the outbreak in 2021 the numbers in hospital exceeded 1000.
'A pretty clear message'
Nonetheless, the comments from both the premier and CHO had people scratching their heads and some anxious.
One woman wrote, after viewing the press conference on Facebook, she will now only follow Dr Chant’s advice while another suggested she had confidence in the CHO but not the government.
“How do we ‘take personal responsibility’ for catching a virus that someone else has? Or does he mean we should all stay home?” another woman wrote.
Another woman wrote it seems Dr Chant “doesn't agree with the lifting of restrictions”.
“Chant in a mask sends a pretty clear message about her views on masking,” another woman wrote.
Victoria was also due to end its mask mandate for indoor settings but has decided to keep it.
Premier, health minister criticised for ‘natter’ behind CHO
Regardless of whether or not the government and the health advice are at odds it has continued an ongoing narrative between Dr Chant and NSW Government officials throughout the pandemic.
There were suggestions earlier this year that the NSW Government disregarded calls from health authorities to lockdown Greater Sydney sooner during the outbreak which led to a lengthy lockdown. This was while Gladys Berejiklian was premier. Ms Berejiklian said the government followed the health advice provided.
When asked where she was, he said: “Dr Chant is one of my favourite constituents in Epping” and said the pair have a great relationship.
Governments generally take advice from health officers and make their own calls with mandates, rules and fines to stop the spread of infection throughout a pandemic.
But Wednesday’s press conference may have shown more proof of a continued fracture between the two factions as Mr Hazzard and Mr Perrottet were seen speaking behind Dr Chant as she was talking on Wednesday.
It did not go unnoticed by viewers.
“They don't even respect her enough not to natter behind her,” one woman wrote.
Another woman called on the premier and health minister to “be respectful”.
“Could someone on Perrottet’s staff or family looking at this, tell him not to smirk, laugh, talk whilst Dr Chant is talking — it’s called respect,” another woman wrote.
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