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Call for mask mandates as national cabinet meets over Omicron

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Doctors are calling for Australian governments to bring back mask mandates and density limits as leaders prepare to meet to discuss the rapid spread of the Omicron variant of COVID-19.

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The call comes after Nine newspapers cited Doherty Institute modelling being prepared for national cabinet predicting up to 200,000 COVID-19 cases a day by late January or early February unless restrictions are put in place.

“Boosters alone will not be fast enough to halt the spread of Omicron,” the modelling says.

Australian Medical Association Vice President Chris Moy said Doherty modelling throughout the pandemic had been pretty on the mark.

“I’m confident in the numbers,” he said.

“The million dollar question is … how many people are going to end up in hospital and in intensive care wards.

“That’s why the AMA is pleading with governments across Australia, state and federal, to take a precautionary approach and get in front of this … simple things like masks and some use of QR codes and some density limits.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison will discuss the issue with state and territory leaders at Wednesday’s national cabinet meeting.

Morrison is also expected to repeat his call for states to hold the line on lockdowns.

“We’re not going back to lockdowns. We’re not going back to shutting down peoples’ lives,” he said on Tuesday.

“We’re going forward to live with this virus with common sense and responsibility.

“There will be other variants beyond Omicron and we have to ensure we are putting in place measures that Australians can live with.”

National cabinet is also expected to receive advice on whether three jabs will be needed for someone to be defined as fully vaccinated, and advice on whether the time frame between a second and third jab should be shortened to three or four months, from a current five months.

As of Tuesday, 1.5 million people had gotten a Pfizer or Moderna booster shot out of an eligible group of 3.2 million.

In primary care and state fridges, there are currently 3.2 million of the mRNA vaccines.

With federal government deliveries underway, there are expected to be 4.8 million mRNA doses in fridges by Christmas.

The national double-dose vaccination rate for people aged 16 and older has surpassed 90 per cent.

But AMA president Dr Omar Khorshid on Tuesday poured cold water on the idea earlier boosters would be a silver bullet in stopping the spread, saying more people being eligible won’t help the pace of the rollout.

“I know everyone’s desperately keen to get their booster but changing eligibility doesn’t magically mean the rollout is going to go faster,” he said.

“The problem with rolling out boosters is your access to vaccinators, to people who actually put the needle into the arm. We don’t have the capacity … to actually deliver more boosters than are being done at the moment.”

Khorshid said sensible measures like wearing masks or simple social distancing requirements were needed to put a “handbrake” on the spread while the booster rollout caught up.

He also called upon leaders to enact a national plan to directly respond to the Omicron variant.

“Omicron … may be mild, but we just don’t know,” he said.

“Now is not the time to be taking risks with people’s lives and with our economies going into next year.”

-AAP

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