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Experts push for the return of masks as Covid death toll passes 10,000

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A leading epidemiologist says restoring mask mandates should be considered as Australia’s Covid-19 death toll rises above 10,000.

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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.

Queensland’s Covid cases are worsening, with Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk saying hospitalisations are likely to rise to 613 by Tuesday. The state’s hospitals are also short of about 1600 staff who are suffering either Covid or the flu.

Palaszczuk said the government was not considering a “mask mandate” but there were discussions going on about what could be done to ensure more people wore masks.

Victoria recorded 24 more Covid-19 deaths on Monday, while there was one fatality reported in NSW.

Changes to the Biosecurity Act coming into effect on Wednesday were made following advice from the 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.

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,” Prof Esterman 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.

“And 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.

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.

 

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