Covid face masks may return to some NSW schools as Victoria avoids mandates

Mask-wearing rules could soon be reintroduced for nearly a million Australians. Here’s how the new guidelines are likely to work.

Face masks may return to some classrooms in New South Wales if Covid-19 cases continue to rise, the state’s education secretary said.

Sarah Mitchell said on Friday that the state government is considering reintroducing restrictions for every school given the damage the virus is doing to staff.

She said the number of sick days taken by school staff has increased by 30 percent this year.

“Of course, I would say that we absolutely feel the pressure of Covid-19 and flu in our schools; this is out of the question,” she told reporters.

Schools in New South Wales will continue their strategy of bringing back additional restrictions such as wearing masks and limiting gatherings to “up to a week” if needed to deal with a major outbreak or protect more vulnerable students.

“We had it during the second semester and it will continue into the third semester,” Ms. Mitchell said.

The state government is also considering distributing additional rapid antigen tests to schools to make it easier for parents to access them.

“We will supply RATs, we will supply people with masks to use and wear,” Ms Mitchell said.

“People are sensitive. They know what they need to do now in terms of living with Covid-19 in our schools, but you know we have winter.”

About 138,993 people have active Covid-19 infection in New South Wales and 2,027 patients are in state hospitals with the virus, according to the latest figures from NSW Health.

People over the age of 12 in New South Wales are required to wear masks on public transport and in hospitals or nursing homes.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has resisted calls to expand mask mandates, and his Victorian counterpart has also resisted it.

Victorian Health Minister Mary Ann Thomas on Tuesday unveiled a series of new pandemic orders as another wave of Covid swept across the state and hospitalizations soared.

But she only “strongly recommended” that masks be worn indoors and in public places, despite acting Chief Medical Officer Ben Cowie advising that mandates be reintroduced in more places, including schools.

The latest Victorian health advice says: “It is highly recommended that you wear a mask indoors and in public places to protect yourself and our most vulnerable.”

“But with these new pandemic orders, there will be no change to current face mask requirements,” the post reads.

Federal Health Minister Mark Butler said the government was unlikely to reintroduce strict requirements, but urged people to follow the strong advice to wear masks and work from home where possible.

Mr Butler warned that millions of Covid-19 infections are expected across the country before spring arrives.

Anthony Albanese called an emergency meeting of the national cabinet next week after succumbing to pressure from states and territories to plan for a Covid winter wave with more than 4,500 people in hospitals with the virus across the country.

The prime minister is under fire for his government decision not to renew the free RAT scheme for concession card holders, as well as a $750 payment for people who contract the virus and are forced to miss work.

It is expected that this issue will be included in the agenda at a government meeting on Monday.

Originally published as Masks may soon return to schools amid winter wave of Covid-19