Independent MP Monique Ryan, a former paediatric neurologist, has rebuked Coalition MPs for not wearing masks in the House of Representatives.
Ryan, who unseated Josh Frydenberg from his inner Melbourne seat of Kooyong at the May election, was heckled from the Coalition benches after she asked the health minister, Mark Butler, about how the government planned to manage the looming burden of long Covid.
As MPs interjected, she paused her question and pointed at the opposition benches to say “put your masks on”.
She later said she did not appreciate being interrupted “while speaking on serious risks of repeated Covid infections”.
“I particularly don’t appreciate being interrupted by shouting LNP MPs who refuse to wear masks. We all have a duty to look after each other,” she said on Twitter.
Since parliament resumed last week, there has been a clear divide in the chamber of the House of Representatives, with all Labor MPs wearing masks compared to just a handful of Coalition MPs.
Nationals Michael McCormack, Mark Coulton, Andrew Gee and Darren Chester were wearing masks, along with Liberals Karen Andrews, Angie Bell, Rowan Ramsey and Andrew Wallace.
Ryan had asked Butler about the risk of repeated infections with Covid-19 as case numbers in Australia reached record highs.
“Repeated infections with Covid-19 tend to be more severe and carry a high risk of persisting symptoms for as long as six months, as well as an increased risk of hospitalisation and death,” she said.
“There is increasing risk of cumulative neurological and cardiovascular disease from infections from Covid 19.
“Can the minister please explain how he proposes to manage the oncoming national significant burden of disability and chronic illness from repeated infection with Covid-19?”
Butler said Covid was still “ravaging” the community, estimating as many as half of all Australians had been infected this year, and there was a need to “come out to grips” with long Covid.
“Long Covid is not easy to diagnose or treat,” Butler said.
“More and more Australians are suffering longer term, multi-system disorders that prove hard to diagnose and treat.
“It is increasingly clear to me that we will need to develop a focused response nationally to the phenomenon of long Covid.”
Butler said he had already begun discussions with the chief medical officer, Paul Kelly, about a long Covid strategy, but said the focus was on getting through the current Omicron wave.
The government has been reluctant to reintroduce mask mandates, with Butler saying widespread mandates were necessary only in the “emergency” phase of the pandemic.
“I think health authorities and the chief health officers … have moved to a position really where people are going to have to make their own decisions about how they behave, how they protect themselves, and how they protect others around them,” Butler said earlier this month.