Victoria has announced more than three million N95 and KN95 face masks will be given out for free as the state continues to battle its latest Covid-19 wave.
The announcement of the free face masks, which sell for about $3 each in chemists, was made on Tuesday by Premier Daniel Andrews and Minister for Health Mary-Anne Thomas after more than 6000 new Covid-19 cases were confirmed.
The masks will be handed out through state-run testing sites, community health services in Victoria and the public transport network.
"Providing masks free of charge to those who need them most will help them protect themselves, their loved ones, and Victoria’s hardworking healthcare workers," Mr Andrews said in a statement.
There are more than 40,000 active cases of Covid-19 in Victoria. On Tuesday, there were 44 Covid-related deaths in the state.
Free masks will make a difference
Speaking to Yahoo News Australia, infectious disease expert Associate Professor Paul Griffin said he thinks Victoria's decision to give out free masks is a good idea.
"We need to do so much more to facilitate mask-wearing, I think education on the benefits is a really important step and I don't think we've done enough about that," he said.
While he does believe mask mandates are a thing of the past, he said providing free masks in high-risk venues or to high-risk people is a good step, and will show the state is genuinely committed to mask-wearing.
"I think at the moment, there's a lot of people who aren't necessarily opposed [to wearing a mask], they just forget or don't think about it," Prof Griffin added.
"So supplying them at some venues will certainly make a difference."
Mask wearing will help Australia 'move forward
People often question the benefits of wearing a mask or repeat misinformation about the importance of them.
Prof Griffin said utilising face masks, while also social distancing when possible and keeping up to date with vaccines can make a difference.
"If we can facilitate mask-wearing by supplying them and educating people around the benefits, that is only going to be something that helps us moving forward," he said.
At the moment there has been talk about being "past" the Covid peak, which is proving to be a challenge in managing the virus, Prof Griffin said.
Even if we were past the peak, that does not mean Covid is going away.
"If we can continue mask-wearing, even between waves, we will be much better prepared for whatever the next wave is that we have to see," he said.
"I think it's really important that we just get people to start wearing masks moving forward."
He said mask-wearing should be encouraged in any situation where there are large groups of people inside and providing them in such situations just makes sense.
"It would be really nice if we started to encourage sustained behavioural change we mask wearing became something that was just expected and normalised moving forward," he said.
"So, supplying masks, I think, is a really good step in the right direction."
N95 and KN95 face masks preferred
Not all face masks are equal and N95 and KN95 face masks, also known as respirators offer the best protection.
Due to N95 masks being optimal, they are generally more expensive.
At Chemist Warehouse, a pack of 10 N95 face masks will set you back $19.99. You can get 50 disposable cloth masks for the same price.
During the early days of the pandemic, the public was discouraged from buying respirators, to ensure healthcare workers had access to them.
Now, it is generally preferred that people opt for a respirator over a cloth mask, with experts warning cloth and surgical masks do not offer the same level of protection in the face of Omicron.
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