The Australian Capital Territory (ACT) has reintroduced mask mandates just days before Christmas. The restrictions were introduced once again as New South Wales (NSW) faces a surge in Covid-19 infections driven by the Omicron variant.
Originally repealed on November 12th, Canberra has now made face masks compulsory again, with the order taking effect on 11:59 pm of December 21st. The measures mean that masks are now required in all indoor settings in the Australian capital, including retail establishments, hospitality venues, elderly care facilities, workplaces and public transport.
The restrictions will remain in place throughout the Christmas and New Year period. Following this, the measures will be reviewed in January 2022 whether they should be extended or not.
Health officials have noted that masks can only be removed in several situations: whilst exercising, communicating with someone who is hearing-impaired and when eating or drinking.
Along with mask mandates, visitor limits were reintroduced at elderly care facilities in Canberra. Residents of care homes will be restricted to five visitors per day and at any one time. Visitors for end-of-life visits are exempted from this rule, with no limits imposed on them.
ACT Deputy Chief Minister Yvette Berry, said: “Wearing a mask indoors is a small price to pay to keep your family and friends safe. In addition to wearing a mask indoors, we all have a responsibility to continue our COVID-safe behaviours, practice physical distancing and [maintain] good hygiene.”
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith added that “reinstating mandatory mask-wearing indoors is a sensible step to mitigate the risks posed by [the] omicron [variant.] We will continue to monitor the situation over the holiday period, listen to the health advice and respond further if needed.”
The mask mandate has returned as the Omicron variant of coronavirus spreads throughout Australia. According to reports, the federal capital recorded 16 new Covid-19 infections on December 21st, half of which have reportedly been caused by the Omicron variant.
“In the past week, we have seen a significant increase in case numbers in the ACT. Around half of our active cases have been confirmed as [being caused by] the omicron variant,” Berry said.
As a result, the infections have put pressure on officials to reintroduce mask mandates just a week after they were scrapped. Federal Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly wrote to premiers and chief ministers of Australia’s different states, recommending that face masks “should be mandated in all indoor settings.” ACT Chief Health Officer Dr. Kerryn Coleman agreed with Kelly’s recommendation and defended Canberra’s December 21st mandate.
“The unexpected emergence at this time of omicron is posing an increasing risk to our community, and this is why we are introducing these measures. This is a common-sense step. We have been here before and I don’t consider this too onerous for us to take to slow the transmission of omicron,” she said.
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