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Masks return on Carnival Cruises as Australia faces new Covid wave
Face masks are back on Carnival Cruises, a major music concert has been cancelled and health chiefs are making calls across the country.
Carnival Cruises has reintroduced mandatory mask wearing on-board its ships following a spike in Covid cases.
A statement said masks were back “out of an abundance of caution.”
They will be required in public indoor spaces, outdoors when in large groups where physical distancing cannot be maintained and during the entire embarkation and debarkation process.
It comes as health department’s across the country are beginning to make calls on Covid health measures – namely mask wearing – in their states and territories, as the Omicron variant XBB takes hold.
Authorities are also closely monitoring the overseas transmission of another Omicron variant BQ.1.
“All indications are that this is the start of a new Covid-19 wave in Australia,” Australian Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said last week.
Prof Kelly said overseas the two variants did not appear to pose a greater risk of severe illness and death, but had driven increases in case numbers “because of their ability to evade the immunity provided by prior infection and vaccination.”
Prof Kelly said Australia needed to focus on actions to reduce the threat of the new variants and keep the pressure off the healthcare system: being up-to-date with vaccinations, wearing a mask in indoor public places or in crowded settings, and staying home if you’re not well.
In NSW 22,672 people were diagnosed with Covid-19 last week, an increase of 52.8 per cent on the previous week.
The rise in cases has prompted Jimmy Barnes to cancel an event in Sydney to sign copies of his new album.
“In order to keep everybody safe given the current increase in Covid cases, the event at Penrith Panthers on Saturday 26 November will not be proceeding. Thank you for understanding,” a message on Barnes’ Twitter read.
This what each state government is recommending.
NSW Health has called for residents to wear masks indoors and on public transport when social distancing is not possible.
The latest NSW Respiratory Surveillance Report, released on Thursday, read: “Because of the high level of Covid-19 transmission across the state, NSW Health is recommending that masks should be worn in indoor public places where physically distancing is not possible, and on public transport.”
The new advice does not mean mask wearing is mandatory in NSW, with Health Minister Brad Hazzard ruling out a return to enforced restrictions last week.
“No, we’re not looking back … We led the country, we were the ones that were taking everybody from overseas for WA because they locked their borders, for Queensland, for Victoria,” he said, adding “we have to live with Covid”.
The official recommendation in Victoria is to wear a face mask for at least seven days if you have Covid or are a close contact of a positive case and need to leave the house, have Covid symptoms or are around vulnerable people (including sensitive settings like hospitals or aged care).
Last week, a government spokeswoman told Herald Sun: “There is no change to Victoria’s advice on masks.”
But chief health officer Brett Sutton has continued to emphasise mask wearing to protect all people against Covid.
In his update last week, Prof Sutton listed six steps to “help you stay ahead of Covid this spring,” which included “Wear a mask: a high-quality and well-fitted mask can protect you from the virus.”
In Tasmania, face masks are recommended in indoor settings, especially where physical distancing is not possible – but there has not been any updates to advice this month.
Earlier this week SA’s chief medical officer Nicola Spurrier said masks were now encouraged in indoor areas with high volumes of people.
“My recommendation is that if you’re in a very crowded indoor place where you cant easily have your own space then that might be the time where you think about wearing a mask,” Professor Spurrier said.
Prof Spurrier said it would only be needed for “a couple of weeks” and the state was “a week or away from the peak of the wave”.
“I’m sure Rundle Mall is hoping it will be full of people looking for Christmas gifts as well as taking advantage of sales, so that would be a time I would be saying to people: ‘have your mask in your pocket and pop it on when you’re in a crowded space,’” she said referring to Black Friday on November 25.
When asked about reintroducing restrictions for SA, Prof Spurrier dismissed the idea changes would be made any time soon.
WA has not ruled out returning to mandated mask wearing.
“Face masks is something we would consider,” chief health officer Andy Robertson told The West Australian last week.
“There are always options we could look at, if for example, we got a variant that was a lot more severe or a lot more people were getting seriously unwell.”
But Dr Robertson said there was no immediate plan to return to masks, with health authorities currently only “strongly encouraging” mask wearing around vulnerable people and urging anyone unwell to stay at home.
NT Health actually removed mask rules last week.
The chief health officer’s direction to wear face masks in high-risk settings was removed on November 11.
Those high-risk settings were hospitals and health care facilities, aged care facilities, disability residential facilities, correctional facilities, family violence, sobering up and homeless shelters.
However, the new advice does say some businesses and high-risk settings may require staff and visitors to wear face masks as part of their workplace health and safety practices, and people are still required to wear a face mask when visiting NT Health hospitals and health care facilities.
Speaking on the removal of the remaining CHO directions last week, which also included requiring people to declare positive rapid antigen test results, Chief Minister Natasha Fyles did not rule out restrictions being reinstated in the future.
“I can’t anticipate the twists and turns of Covid into the future,” she said, according to ABC.
“But we very much are leaving that emergency footing of Covid and having it as a community-based illness.”
Wearing a mask is still recommended in indoor and outdoor settings where physical distancing is not possible.
The ACT government “strongly encourages” people to wear a face mask in public indoor settings, including public transport, or where it is difficult to maintain physical distancing.
Although this was existing advice, ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith reminded people last week to follow the recommendations as the territory started to see an “upswing in cases”.
Face masks also remain mandatory in some high-risk settings.