Support a Mask Mandate in New South Wales

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We congratulate the NSW Government on good pandemic control to date and the tireless work of the Chief Health Officer and public health teams. We currently face the largest community outbreak in NSW since the pandemic began. This is a very dangerous moment for New South Wales because of the outbreak occurring during two potentially super-spreading events, Christmas and New Year’s Eve, followed by the Third Test Match.  We believe a mask mandate now could prevent the need for lockdowns later, and ask the NSW Government to act quickly. Time is very short. The right decisions will bring life back to normal as quickly as possible. Without a mask mandate, uptake would be 30-40% at most. Estimates during the peak of the second wave in Victoria showed peak mask use in NSW was about 30% at that time. In Victoria, a mandate changed mask use from about 40% to almost 100% overnight.

Local movement restrictions in the Northern Beaches has had a positive impact, but may not be enough as the outbreak spreads beyond this area. A mask mandate will not hurt the economy, may prevent further economic harm by preventing a larger outbreak, has few downsides and will be most effective if used early in an outbreak.

The rationale for universal masking is that up to 50% of infections are asymptomatic, but as infectious as symptomatic infections. This means people may not be aware they are infected, and others have no way of identifying infectious people. Universal masking will reduce onward transmission from infected people, and protect well people.

As senior health professionals and concerned members of the community, we call on the NSW government to introduce a statewide mask mandate immediately, until community transmission is no longer ongoing in the state. This is particularly critical, given Australia is not expecting to have vaccines available until March 2021.