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'Something I’d rather avoid': Malinauskas rejects mask mandate

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Premier Peter Malinauskas has ruled out reimposing a face mask mandate inside public venues, saying he would be reluctant to bring back compulsory restrictions even if health experts urged him to do so.

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SA Health today reported 19 COVID-related deaths, but some of those occurred since February 3 and are only now being reported following latest data released from Births, Deaths and Marriages.

There are 384 people with COVID in hospital – an increase of 10 from yesterday – including 11 in intensive care.

South Australia today reported 3363 new COVID cases, bringing the total number of active cases in the state to 27,506.

The government is facing calls from groups such as the Australian Medical Association to bring back mask-wearing rules, given the increased transmissibility of the new Omicron subvariants, BA.4 and BA.5, which now account for the majority of COVID cases in the state.

Chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier has previously said that COVID-19 transmission could be reduced by about 10 per cent if everyone wore face masks inside crowded public venues.

But Malinauskas, who returned to work today after taking two weeks’ leave, told reporters that mask mandates were “not something that is currently on the radar”.

The Premier said no other state or territory had brought back mask-wearing rules and he was determined to maintain national consistency on the issue.

“Reintroducing mask mandates doesn’t come without its own consequences,” he said.

“This is about balancing consideration of the health system… while we’re also doing what measures we can to consider the fact that we’re in different phase of the pandemic.

“We do place a high value on national consistency (and) there’s no state in the country that’s reintroduced a mask mandate.”

Masks are still mandatory in high-risk settings such as hospitals and other health care services, pharmacies, disability and aged care services, public transport, and on planes.

Close contacts of positive COVID cases must also wear a mask when leaving their home.

Reimposing a mask mandate for other public places would require the government to declare another state or public health emergency.

Labor MP Eddie Hughes on Friday called on the Malinauskas government to consider reintroducing a mask mandate inside crowded public places such as supermarkets.

The member for Giles told InDaily introducing a mask mandate was a “small ask” to protect vulnerable people from getting sick.

Malinauskas said he hadn’t spoken to Hughes about the issue, but the government was yet to receive any local or national health advice to support the reintroduction of a mask mandate.

He told ABC Radio Adelaide earlier today that even if he did receive such health advice, he would have “an extraordinary degree of reluctance” to act on it.

“It’s (a face mask mandate) not something that I want to see occur – that’s something I’d rather avoid,” he said.

It comes as schools returned for the first day of Term 3 today as COVID cases continue to spike across the state.

Mask-wearing inside classrooms is recommended, but the Education Department has stopped short of making it compulsory.

Malinauskas said in “certain circumstances” mask mandates might be reintroduced in schools if cases spiked.

“That’s a system that we thought worked well towards the back end of the last school term. It should work well at the beginning of this one too,” he said.

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