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Masks back on agenda after COVID chiefs meeting

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South Australia’s Emergency Management Council is asking people to “consider wearing masks again” in indoor, crowded and unventilated areas, as the state prepares for another COVID peak this winter.

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The state government’s Emergency Management Council of Cabinet met on Monday night to discuss a forecasted increase in COVID-19 cases this month driven by the BA.4 and BA.5 Omicron subvariants.

SA Health-commissioned modelling from the University of Adelaide forecast two weeks ago that daily cases will peak at around 5000 a day by July 12.

Health Minister Chris Picton said the EMC last night opted against introducing new mask rules but would be encouraging their use in certain settings.

“While no additional mask requirements are being imposed, people are asked to consider wearing masks again particularly in indoor, crowded and unventilated areas,” Picton said in a statement.

“There are existing mask requirements that must be complied with including on public transport and in high-risk settings such as health care and aged care.”

Picton told ABC Radio this morning the EMC was “changing its messaging” in a bid to “try to encourage people to wear masks in more settings rather than put in place mandatory restrictions more broadly”.

“I think a lot of people have clearly taken the reduction in cases that we’ve seen over the past few months as an ability to put the mask away,” he said.

“We’re asking people to consider putting your mask back in your handbag or your pockets when you head out … because we are likely to see significant numbers of increased cases.”

SA Health reported one death and 2559 COVID-19 cases on Monday, up from 2413 on Sunday.

There are 220 people in hospital, nine in ICU and three ventilated.

Queensland and the ACT are also weighing up whether to re-introduce mask rules in some settings in a bid to curtail the new Omicron subvariant’s threat.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palasczuk said on Monday: “We are not doing a mask mandate, but there are discussions happening about urging people in certain situations to wear masks.”

There were 26 deaths from COVID recorded across Australia on Monday. The national death toll passed 10,000 earlier this month.

Hospitalisations have also reached 3511 across the country, the highest levels since February during the height of the Omicron wave.

Nearly 30,000 infections were reported nationally on Monday alone.

Picton, meanwhile, said the EMC also discussed the availability of antiviral drugs for COVID-19 and is working “constructively” with the federal government to loosen national rules limiting their prescription.

“We want it to be much more about the doctor’s decision as to who should get access rather than a very prescriptive list of rules that have meant that the number of people getting access has been quite limited in South Australia at the moment,” he said.

“If we can get access to more antivirals, then that will be a huge help to making sure that people avoid that really severe illness associated with COVID-19.”

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