A leading epidemiologist says restoring mask mandates should be considered as Australia’s COVID-19 death toll rises above 10,000.
Professor Adrian Esterman’s comments came as border restrictions enforced in response are due to be dropped, with arriving passengers no longer required to declare their vaccination status or obtain a travel exemption.
Changes to the Biosecurity Act coming into effect on Wednesday were made following advice from chief medical officer Paul Kelly that it was no longer necessary for travellers to declare their vaccination status.
The Digital Passenger Declaration required people entering Australia to provide their contact details as well as declare their vaccination status, where they had been in the past 14 days, and commit to following quarantine and testing requirements.
Professor Esterman said caution was needed as public health restrictions were eased.
“At the moment we are getting the BA.5 and BA.4 variants taking over from BA.2,” he told ABC TV on Monday.
“We are seeing the effective reproduction number – which tells us how bad or good things are going – greater than one in all states and territories.
“That tells us that case numbers will be going up, hospitalisations will invariably go up … and deaths will go up as well.”
He said this underlined the need to resist removing more public health measures.
“If it was up to me, I would bring back face mask mandates, but that might not happen until things get much worse than they are now,” he said.
On Saturday Queensland’s chief health officer, John Gerrard, said there was increasing pressure to bring back mask mandates.
But Queensland Health and Ambulance Services Minister Yvette D’Ath said on Sunday there was no change in mask rules.
“But we do remind people as we go through this third wave that they can make those decisions [about when to wear masks] for themselves,” she said.
Health authorities have urged almost six million Australians to get vaccine boosters to ease pressure on hospitals and ensure greater personal protection from the virus.
Health ministers, who met on Friday, are looking at broadening the eligibility criteria for access to COVID-19 antiviral therapies.
They have also pledged to meet monthly to keep a close eye on public hospital system pressure.
Australia’s latest 24-hour COVID data
NSW: 8958 cases, one death, 1725 hospitalisations, 50 in ICU