Experts renew calls for constant mask rules to be eased in Victoria
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Victoria's compulsory mask-wearing policy could be loosened within a month, but two public health experts argue that the rules around masks should be eased now.
As Victoria recorded its 15th straight day without a new coronavirus case on Saturday, Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said health authorities were not in a rush to make the expected switch to masks being compulsory only in high-risk, indoor settings such as shops and public transport.
Shoppers returned to the streets of Melbourne on Wednesday.Credit:Joe Armao
On Saturday Melbourne University associate professor of public health Nathan Grills said masks were very effective but the rules should be relaxed as soon as possible.
That move should not affect the decision on other restrictions as masks should remain compulsory in high-risk settings, he said.
"None of us are saying masks are useless, they've proven to be very effective and will continue to be in high-risk environments – the MCG, supermarkets, indoor environments," he said.
"But it seems a really excessive and risk-averse approach when evidence from other jurisdictions in Australia shows they have not required that extreme measure to control the virus or even get close to elimination."
Professor Grills, who works part-time in a Melbourne emergency department where he has witnessed mental health presentations boom recently, said the government should consider taking its next step in restrictions before next Sunday.
"One week does make a difference. I see limitations on people's lives that lead to poorer mental health, disharmony in individuals and families," Professor Grills said. "There's a gradual step we could go to safely this week."
Victoria had just three active cases on Saturday and the latest "double doughnut day" came after 14,614 tests were processed the previous day.
Professor Cheng added that Victoria was watching developments in New South Wales and New Zealand, which began a travel bubble with Victoria this week, when considering its mask rules.
Melbourne University epidemiologist James McCaw said he agreed that masks would remain crucial indoors for months to come.
But with the NSW-Victoria border opening on November 23, Professor McCaw said the possibility of cases being imported from north of the border was not sufficient to validate extending compulsory masks.
"I broadly agree with Professor Cheng that if we ease restrictions in one place we may have to maintain them in another. But I don't think the blanket 'always wear your mask' should remain," he said.
"I think Victorians have shown they can handle nuance. We can be at a level where you don't always have to wear it, but you do have to carry it to put on in a dense environment. Let's back people to behave in a sensible way."
The full detail of changes will be announced next Sunday but Mr Andrews has previously said 10 people will be allowed to visit a home at a time and public gatherings will grow to 50 people outdoors.
Weddings and funerals would be allowed with 100 people or 10 in a private residence under the plan, and organised contact sports would resume for all ages with limitations on spectators.
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