More than 20,000 Covid cases in NSW as some experts call for reintroducing mask mandate

·2-min read
<span>Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images</span>
Photograph: Lisa Maree Williams/Getty Images

Covid-19 infections continue to rise in the state with a second day of more than 20,000 cases as BA.2 Omicron subvariant spreads

Experts have called on the New South Wales government to reintroduce mandatory face masks in high-risk settings as Covid-19 infections spike across the state.

NSW reported its second consecutive day of more than 20,000 new cases, with 20,087 cases recorded in the 24 hours to 4pm on Wednesday and an estimated 20,402 the day before. NSW health minister, Brad Hazzard, warned the number could double by next month.

The Australian Medical Association’s NSW president, Dr Danielle McMullen, said the spread of the more infectious BA.2 Omicron subvariant is a concern and the government should follow public health advice.

“Our advice throughout the pandemic has been that masks are a simple and effective way to reduce infection,” she said.

Last week Hazzard reportedly rejected NSW Health’s recommendations to again mandate wearing masks indoors, density limits, a ban on singing and dancing, and a return to working from home.

NSW Health refused to confirm whether it recommended mandates be reintroduced now, or once cases reached a certain point.

Prof Alexandra Martiniuk, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney, said given that millions of eligible Australians are yet to receive their third Covid-19 vaccine dose, reintroducing some restrictions may be necessary.

She added that the NSW health system is still under pressure with more than 2,500 health workers in isolation and unable to work this week.

“As we saw with the first wave of Omicron, even if sickness doesn’t slow up society, the sheer number of people needing to isolate due to being Covid-19-positive can cause challenges,” Martiniuk said.

But Prof Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, disagreed that masks should be mandated again yet, arguing they should instead be “strongly encouraged”as NSW’s ICU rates remained stable. Many Australians have also contracted Covid-19 in recent months so have increased protection against the BA.2 subvariant.

On Thursday there were 34 people in ICU in NSW, the lowest rate since 25 December.

“If we see numbers push up and translate into hospitalisations, then we should look at the rules again,” Bennett said.

“That said, not having rules doesn’t mean don’t wear a mask. There will be people who feel more comfortable wearing a mask for a number of reasons and you can do this without mandates in place.”