Victoria’s mask rules won’t change despite the Chief’s Health Officer’s recommendation

Victoria’s Health Minister has said she dismissed recommendations from the state’s Chief Health Officer to mandate mask wearing in retail and early education settings in response to rising case numbers.

Victoria has recorded 16 new deaths and 10,627 new cases of the virus.

The number of people in hospital with COVID rose from 402 in mid-June to 737 on Tuesday.

The government predicts hospitalisation figures will continue to surge as winter progresses, projecting a possible rise to approximately 200 admissions per day.

Advice from the Health Department states increased indoor mask-wearing could cut this figure to between 150 and 180 admissions per day.

The rising hospitalisations prompted some health experts to call on state and federal authorities to change their strategies for dealing with COVID-19.

The Victorian government has announced new measures which will come into effect at 11:59pm Tuesday, including a new public health campaign to encourage people to get all of the vaccine doses for which they are eligible.

It’s also revising down the testing and isolation exemption period for people who have recently contracted the virus from 12 weeks to four weeks.

The government said the move was in response to emerging evidence that new COVID-19 variants can evade prior immunity gained from infection.

The latest data shows a rise in the BA.4/BA.5 variants in Victoria’s wastewater catchments, indicating these are now the dominant circulating strains in the community — with BA.5 more prevalent than BA.4.

In the two weeks leading up to June 20, BA.4/BA.5 were found in 50.3 per cent of all clinical genomic samples.

No change to mask rules despite CHO advice

Victoria’s Health Minister Mary-Ann Thomas confirmed she chose not to follow through on some of the Chief Health Officer’s recommendations regarding mask wearing.

Acting CHO Ben Cowie recommended masks be made mandatory in early education and retail settings but the minister said she wouldn’t reintroduce such measures.

Victorian health minister Mary-Anne Thomas
Victorian Health Minister Mary-Anne Thomas has confirmed she did not act on the Chief Health Officer’s advice.(AAP: Joel Carrett)

“The Chief Health Officer has provided his advice and I have accepted his advice, except that I have chosen not to extend mandates for mask wearing,” she said.

Ms Thomas said the wearing of masks is being encouraged in indoor and crowded settings, but there is no change to the current rules.

A sign warning people to wear masks and not to enter if they are feeling unwell.
Masks are only mandatory in certain settings in Victoria, such as on public transport or while visiting a hospital.(ABC News: Rachel Clayton)

“I have had the opportunity to consult with industry leaders. What our business leaders know and what they experienced last January was that if they don’t take action they will lose their staff to COVID,” she said.

“I have assurances from business and community leaders that they will work actively to encourage mask usage.”

Opposition leader Matthew Guy has slammed the government for disregarding health advice, calling it a hypocritical move.

“Seven months ago, Labor ridiculed others for ignoring advice on mask mandates. Now they have done the same,” Mr Guy said.

“The Health Minister has been forced to come clean and admit she has rejected advice from the Acting Chief Health Officer, because for Labor, it’s all about politics.”

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