Dr Kerryn Phelps says everyone in New South Wales should be forced to wear a face mask and warned the state is at risk of a Victorian-style second wave.
The former president of the Australian Medical Association told the ABC’s Q&A program on Monday night face masks are one of the best weapons in the fight against COVID-19.
‘We need to head towards them being compulsory,’ Dr Phelps said. ‘We need to anticipate that there will be a next wave in NSW.
‘At the moment the numbers are relatively low, but there is nothing to say they will remain low.’
Dr Phelps added: ‘We know with aerosol transmission now, airborne transmission, wearing a mask is some of the best protection that you can have.
‘You protect yourself, you protect others. There’s been a nonsensical debate for months now which has been so frustrating because it has not been evidence-based about wearing masks.
‘It is one of the single most responsible things that we can do as members of the community to protect each other.’
Dr Phelps, who is a City of Sydney Councillor, said Australia needs to work towards eliminating coronavirus rather than the current suppression strategy.
She pointed to how the nation had come close to elimination during the first wave, and said current approaches needed to be geared towards eradication.
‘We need to think about elimination, we can do it, we got very close to it, we just need to hold the line,’ she said.
‘We need to get it to the point where we had no community transmission anywhere in Australia and then stop the virus from coming into the country.’
Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Sunday advised NSW residents to wear masks outside.
She said mask usage would not be made mandatory, but revised current recommendations to address four specific circumstances.
Masks should be worn by public-facing employees such as hospitality or supermarket workers, worshippers and residents of suburbs near COVID-19 clusters, as well as in situations where social distancing is impossible.
‘We have been talking about masks for several weeks but obviously the persistent situation in Victoria gives us cause for alarm in terms of the potential for further seeding in NSW, and it is about risk mitigation strategy,’ Ms Berejiklian said.
‘We’re going to the next stage of assessing what else and how else we can decrease the risk and break the current chain coming through NSW.’
University of New South Wales professor of infectious diseases, Raina MacIntyre, has been calling on the government to mandate masks for weeks.
‘Pre-emptive measures such as using face masks early should be used in NSW,’ Professor MacIntyre told the Financial Review last month.
‘The earlier you use it, the more effective it will be.
‘It may make the difference between not going the same route as Victoria.’
The infectious disease expert renewed her pleas on Monday after hordes of Sydneysiders were spotted flouting social distancing rules over the weekend.
Hundreds of people were pictured tightly packed along Bondi Beach on Sunday afternoon, as the state attempts to fight off a second wave.
‘People are living their lives at the moment as if it’s back to normal. We’re not back to normal,’ Professor MacIntyre told A Current Affair.
‘We’re in the middle of a pandemic and we don’t want to go down the same route as Victoria.
‘Even yesterday out and about in Sydney people aren’t social distancing, so mandating [masks] might make a difference.’
Professor MacIntyre said masks should be viewed as a tool to help retain freedom, rather than take it away, as they will help steer the state away from a lockdown.
The concerning crowds in Bondi came on the same day was forced into stage four lockdown after 671 new cases and seven deaths were recorded in Victoria on Sunday.
The state recorded 429 new cases on Monday with 13 fatalities.
Hours before Victorian Premier Dan Andrews made the stage four order, dozens of Melburnians caused outrage online after a video emerged of masses gathering along St Kilda Beach.
NSW recorded 13 new cases of coronavirus on Monday, including nine cases from the community and one from an unknown source.