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Over 20,000 Covid cases in NSW as some experts call for reintroducing mask mandate

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Covid-19 infections continue to rise in the state with a second day of more than 20,000 cases as the BA.2 Omicron subvariant spreads

Experts have called on the NSW government to reintroduce mandatory face masks in high-risk settings as Covid-19 infections rise across the state.

NSW reported its second consecutive day of more than 20,000 new cases, with 20,087 cases recorded in the 24 hours to 4pm on Wednesday and an estimated 20,402 the day before. NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has warned that the number could double next month.

NSW Australian Medical Association President Dr Danielle McMullen said the spread of the more infectious BA.2 Omicron subvariant is a concern and the government should follow public health advice.

“Our advice during the pandemic has been that masks are a simple and effective way to reduce infection,” he said.

Last week, Hazzard reportedly rejected recommendations from NSW Health to again require the use of masks indoors, density limits, a ban on singing and dancing, and a return to working from home.

NSW Health declined to confirm whether it recommended the mandates be reintroduced now or once cases reach a certain point.

Professor Alexandra Martiniuk, an epidemiologist at the University of Sydney, said that as millions of eligible Australians have yet to receive their third dose of Covid-19 vaccine, some restrictions may need to be reintroduced.

He added that the NSW health system is still under pressure with more than 2,500 health workers isolated and unable to work this week.

“As we saw with the first wave of Omicron, even if the disease doesn’t hold society back, the sheer number of people who need to isolate because they are COVID-19 positive can still cause challenges,” Martiniuk said.

But Professor Catherine Bennett, chair of epidemiology at Deakin University, disagreed that masks should be compulsory again, arguing that they should instead be “strongly recommended” as NSW ICU rates remained stable. Many Australians have also contracted Covid-19 in recent months, so they have increased protection against the BA.2 subvariant.

There were 34 people in the ICU in NSW on Thursday, the lowest rate since December 25.

“If we see the numbers go up and translate to hospitalizations, then we should review the rules again,” Bennett said.

“That said, having no rules doesn’t mean not wearing a mask. There will be people who are more comfortable wearing a mask for various reasons and you can do so without any mandates in place.”

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