New Covid advice on masks and working from home from Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly

Australians have been urged to wear masks at work again and employers to allow employees to work from home in new advice issued by the country’s chief medical officer, Paul Kelly.

Health Minister Mark Butler announced the changes at a joint press conference in Canberra, where he entered a room wearing a mask, but stressed that the new advice is not binding.

Mr Butler said he believes the true number of Australians with Covid is much higher than official numbers suggest.

“This third wave of Omicron for 2022 is proving to be very, very important,” Mr. Butler said.

“There have been about 300,000 cases reported in the last seven days and I think the CMO and I are pretty sure the real number is probably more than double that.

“We are seeing hundreds and hundreds of thousands of Australians getting infected every week in this wave. There are over 5,200 Australians in hospital with Covid to date. That number has increased very sharply in recent weeks.”

Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly said the new community variant was much more contagious than previous strains.

“It’s also very good at avoiding immunity, whether it’s from a previous infection, so you can get re-infected,” he said.

“So, even though vaccination, as the minister said, still provides very good protection against severe illness and death, and I would like to repeat what the minister said, be sure to go and get that third dose if you must, or get a fourth dose if you are now eligible. These vaccines do not stop the transmission of this virus, in which case this option is unusual.”

Professor Kelly said he was trying to play a “leadership role” by wearing a mask.

“We know that wearing masks reduces the spread and protects yourself and others, if you are away from home and indoors in a crowded place, I really strongly recommend that you wear masks,” he said.

“Now I wear a mask. You must have noticed that the minister also wears a mask. This is our leadership role in the community. It’s not forever, but over the next few weeks we can really influence

But Mr. Butler said it was not a mandate.

“This is not the same advice that was given by the chief medical officers last week,” he said.

In a statement, the chief medical officer said all readings and weekly forecast reports show that the number of cases in Australia will continue to rise over the next month.

Due to the number of cases, we may also see an increase in the number of people dying from Covid-19, especially among those at higher risk of severe illness, especially those over 80 and those who have not received all recommended doses of the vaccine.” he said.

We cannot stop this wave of infections, but we can slow the spread and protect the vulnerable. We’ve done it before and we can do it again. In fact, a number of measures and advice provided over the past two weeks provide us with a clear, evidence-based path to achieve these twin goals.

The Australian Chief Public Health Committee (AHPPC) reiterated its advice on re-infection periods, testing and isolation, mask wearing, vaccine boosters and treatment, and urged employers to allow work from home if possible.

“Employers should review their workplace health and safety risks and mitigation measures, as well as their business continuity plans. They should consider having some employees work from home, wear masks at work, and help employees take sick leave.”

On the good news, nearly 560,000 fourth doses were delivered in the first week of the expanded rollout, up from about 180,000 the week before—a three-fold increase.

“I also encourage everyone to follow the recent AHPPC advice and wear masks outside the home in crowded spaces, including on public transport. This is important to protect yourself and others,” he said.

“Physical distancing where possible and good hygiene practices provide additional layers of protection. Get tested if you have any symptoms and stay home if you have Covid-19.

“Check your eligibility for antiviral treatment with your regular healthcare provider and put together a Covid treatment plan so you know exactly what to do to access this lifesaving treatment before you get sick.”

Originally published as New Covid advice on masks, work from home from chief medical officer