By ALLISON HORE
More than 20,000 face masks are being distributed to some of Sydney’s most vulnerable people in a move the City of Sydney hopes will minimise further outbreaks of COVID-19.
Although masks are not mandatory in NSW, they are “strongly recommended” in indoor settings where physical distancing is hard to maintain.
NSW Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant recommends the use of masks on public transport, in places of worship and in supermarkets and malls. She also suggests masks be worn by staff in customer-facing workplaces including cafes, restaurants, pubs and clubs.
Abrar Chughtai, an Epidemiologist from the University of New South Wales, also supports the use of masks. He told City Hub in August that use of masks was crucial in slowing the spread of COVID-19 especially as asymptomatic people may not get tested or self-isolate.
“In NSW either we can control it, or we will be in the same situation we see in Melbourne now,” Dr Chughtai said.
“If we have effective intervention available, then why don’t we use it? I would urge people to wear masks for the safety of those around them.”
But with reusable masks sitting at around $10-$30 each, it can be difficult for those in Sydney’s most vulnerable communities to get their hands on them.
“When maintaining physical distancing is hard, we should all be wearing a face mask. But not everyone is able to buy them,” Sydney’s Lord Mayor Clover Moore said.
“We are working closely with local health districts, other government agencies and relevant community organisations to ensure the masks are distributed as quickly and safely as possible.”
To help make it possible for all people to mask-up when needed, the council is delivering 23,000 free, reusable masks to social housing residents, boarding houses and rough sleepers.
To deliver the $200,000 initiative, the City of Sydney worked together with an Australian manufacturer, ClothMaskMe, who provided the masks at cost price. The masks are made from 3 ply material and meet the World Health Organisation’s guidelines.
Sydney Local Health District Chief Executive, Dr Teresa Anderson, applauds the City of Sydney’s initiative. She said socially distancing, sanitising or washing our hands and using masks are key ways to protect ourselves and the community during the pandemic.
“In our area we have pockets of advantage, but also areas of great disadvantage,” Dr Anderson said.
“More than 13,000 people across Sydney and South Eastern Sydney local health districts are experiencing homelessness or at risk of becoming homeless, and we have many people living in social housing, or struggling financially due to job losses related to the pandemic.”
COVID-19 numbers in NSW have slowed. But on Monday NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned people not to be “lulled into a false sense of security” over the public holidays after two consecutive days of zero coronavirus cases.
“If you’re with the family in school holidays, if you’re at a venue or you’re enjoying the outdoors, please note, the threat of the virus is still around us,” she said.