NSW Treasurer Dominic Perrottet says he would support rescinding a public health order making face masks mandatory if coronavirus numbers continue to dwindle, with the measure likely to be discussed at upcoming crisis cabinet meetings.
With the government mandating face masks in shopping centres, on public transport and in other indoor spaces only last weekend, Mr Perrottet said he was in favour of winding the restriction back if the state’s COVID-19 situation continued to improve.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Treasurer Dominic Perrottet. Credit:Janie Barrett
“Face masks are more preferable than lockdowns but ultimately if we get back to a steady state, there may be an opportunity to move back and forth in that space, instead of putting tighter restrictions on businesses and broader society,” Mr Perrottet told The Sun-Herald.
“You could move back and forth to keep the rest of the economy in a steady state.”
Mr Perrottet said he was most focused on allowing hospitality venues and churches to return to the one person per two square metres rule – rather than four – as well as releasing restrictions on weddings and funerals “as quickly as possible”.
“If there’s a choice between face masks and the two square metre rule, we will prioritise releasing restrictions and opening up society as much as possible,” he said. “It’s a balancing act tying in with health advice but it depends on circumstances at the time.”
NSW authorities asked the community to get tested in high numbers this week.Credit:Steven Siewert
NSW recorded one new locally-acquired COVID-19 case on Saturday. Asked about the mandatory mask law, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she did not want any “unnecessary burdens” placed on citizens.
“If there is an opportunity to ease the restrictions we will,” she told reporters. “But we also have to assume that, given the variants in the virus coming through, that there will be situations where we might need to tighten or even strengthen those restrictions.
“If we get health advice to say that they are now more comfortable with the community transmission levels, we can revert back to the previous freedoms we had – which we don’t have today.”
Asked how long Sydneysiders could expect to be wearing masks, NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said it was important to discuss what “COVID normal” looked like.
“It’s really pleasing to see the vaccine is within our reach … to be perfectly frank at the moment I really want the community focused on achieving no community transmission,” Dr Chant said.
She said the masks provided a “fourth barrier” to the coronavirus, and described the city’s level of compliance with the new restriction as “amazing”.
The NSW government had resisted mandating masks for the first year of the pandemic, though the recent spike in the northern beaches and a spreading event occurring in a western Sydney bottle shop spurred a rethink on the policy.
A senior government member speaking on the condition of anonymity said the crisis cabinet meeting in early January had been the first time NSW Health officials had strongly advocated making masks mandatory in indoor public spaces.
They said the senior ministers did not push back on the plan, and were supportive of the new restriction for Sydneysiders.
However, there are concerns from some within Parliament that if face masks remain mandated through periods of low, or no community transmission, the government will reach for harsher restrictions if there is another spike in cases.
“Face masks are a card you would like to have up your sleeve to play when things get harder, rather than pursuing further restrictions,” a government MP said.
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