Calls to reintroduce the widely-disliked mask mandates because of the recently increasing number of Covid cases have been rejected by leading medical experts.
On Wednesday, Australian Medical Association (AMA) Queensland president Maria Boulton said people should wear masks in large crowds, on planes and in medical settings to slow the spread of Covid before Christmas.
There were 6,550 reported cases across Australia last week, with the Department of Health and Aged Care confirming an average of 936 new cases per day.
Infectious diseases specialist Professor Peter Collignon has made it clear he opposes people being forced by law to wear masks.
‘If at increased risk, or concerned, yes wear a mask. But no mandates,’ he wrote on X, formerly known as Twitter.
He said the current Covid wave – Australia’s eighth – was ‘likely already declining and will be down to low levels by Christmas’.
Professor Collignon, who is a microbiologist at Canberra Hospital, said there was ‘little or likely no point’ wearing a mask outside.
He added that masks will give ‘some short term protection’ to those who are concerned about short term exposure indoors, but eye protection is also needed.
‘What lands in your eyes goes into your nose,’ the professor said.
Another medical expert, Dr Nick Coatsworth, is also sceptical about the value of mask wearing.
He told Channel 7’s Today show they only work if used along with other measures such as ‘social distancing and movement restrictions’ which he said Australia is ‘not going back to’.
‘We don’t need to go back to masks,’ he said.
Dr Coatsworth said the AMA had quoted the fact that there were 245 hospitalisations related to Covid-19 in the current wave in Queensland, but he pointed out there are more than a million hospital admissions in the state every year.
He wanted instead to reassure people that ‘vaccination works’ and said there were ways to manage the pressure on the hospital system without resorting to mask mandates.
The doctor added that Covid had become less dangerous in the almost four years since it was first discovered in China in late 2019.
‘Covid-19 is now a milder disease because of what we call herd immunity, we have all been exposed to it,’ he said.
In NSW, Covid activity increased ‘across all indicators’ in the past fortnight, with more than one in 10 PCR tests returning a positive result.
But with fewer people getting tested for Covid and jurisdictions no longer collecting information on self-reported rapid antigen tests, the latest figures are likely to be significantly underestimated.
Epidemiology Professor Catherine Bennett told Daily Mail Australia that the most recent wave of Covid infections was not surprising.
Prof Bennett said people’s immunity wanes after a certain period of time meaning they could be more susceptible to a new sub-variant.
She said the new E.G.5.1 sub-variant was responsible for half of the cases in NSW and would continue to drive new infections over the coming weeks.
‘This wave has come six months after the one we experienced over winter and has had a reasonably slow take off,’ Prof Bennett said.
‘With each wave we’ve seen a benefit from hybrid immunity with vaccines and prior infection against a range of sub-variants.
‘However, with every rise in infections a proportion of people will end up in hospital.’
She said people shouldn’t wait for a cough or a sore throat before testing with the new sub-variant associated with milder symptoms.
‘Some of the less common symptoms like aching muscles and sore back tend to feature a bit more, some people might just have a fever or runny nose,’ she said.
‘There is more virus circulating in the population so people need to watch out for potential exposures and think about the risk they pose to others.’
Professor Peter Collignon said he didn’t see Christmas being a ‘big problem’ for new infections.
He said there were usually two or three Covid waves each year, with Australia already experiencing two – one in January and the past winter.
‘Therefore it’s unlikely in summer that we’ll have anything major,’ he said.
‘In the summer we have the benefit of being outside more, people can have barbecues instead of sitting indoors and do things that will decrease the spread of Covid but still allow a relatively normal social life.’
In Western Australia, where there are 231 active Covid cases, concertgoers have been advised to wear a mask to the concert by British band Coldplay in Perth this weekend.