A proposal by health bureaucrats to extend mask wearing rules through Christmas has sparked a furious backlash.
Face coverings could remain mandatory in indoor settings in New South Wales even after the state hits the 95 per cent vaccination rate, amid concerns infections will spike in lead up to the busy festive season.
NSW government officials are looking at extending the mask mandate beyond mid-December, amid fears the virus could spread and result in a worrying new spike of infections.
Health Minister Brad Hazzard has pledged his support for the mask rule extension with the government tipped to make an announcement with days.
2GB breakfast host Ben Fordham led the growing chorus of outrage over the proposal, which he slammed as ‘over-cautious’.
Sydney shoppers (pictured in Pitt Street Mall) may have to continue wearing masks in lead up to the Christmas rush
‘It’s becoming exhausting I’ve got to stay,’ he told listeners on Wednesday.
‘It’s supposed to end mid-December. So what’s changed?’
‘We stopped worrying about case numbers a while ago, remember? That’s why we got vaccinated!’ How long is this going to go on?’
‘If we’re worried about Christmas shopping, then presumably we’re worried about Boxing Day and New Year’s sales and on and on it goes.’
Masks are also compulsory on public transport, in rideshare vehicle and in common areas of apartment buildings.
Queensland scrapped masks in retail settings as soon as the state hit 80 per cent single dose vaccination rates.
Fordham recalled how he lasted just one hour on a shopping trip with his kids last weekend before going home because he was fed up with wearing masks.
He issued a public plea for NSW Premier Dominic Perrottet to show some common sense by not bowing to the demands of unelected bureaucrats.
‘The government has bowed to these health officials too many times,’ Fordham continued.
‘All restrictions were supposed to end at 80 per cent double dose. Then it changed to 95 per cent. Every decision is based on the cautious health advice.’
‘Premier please, prove once and for all unelected bureaucrats are not running the show.’
‘From December 15, people deserve a choice.’
Masks could remain mandatory in NSW indoor retail settings even after the state hits the 95 per cent vaccination rate by mid December (pictured, Sydney shoppers last weekend)
Fordham was inundated with support from talkback listeners who want the mask rule scrapped.
‘Get rid of the damn masks,’ one said.
Another added: ‘Premier needs to stop mask wearing in schools.’
‘I’ve lost all interest in shopping for Christmas because of the masks,’ a third said.
The proposal sparked a more divisive reaction online with many happy to continue wearing masks to protect themselves.
‘I don’t mind wearing a mask to be safe,’ one woman posted.
Another added: ‘Wearing a mask is the least restrictive measure we have. I don’t see what all the fuss is about. its just a mask.
NSW is second only to the ACT in vaccination rates in Australia.
As of Tuesday night, 91.9 per cent of over-16s in the state are fully vaccinated and 94.4 per cent have at least one dose.
NSW health bureaucrats want to extend the mask wearing mandate into 2022 (pictured masked commuters on public transport)
Fears over coronavirus spreading in the lead up to Christmas could see the mask mandate remain indoors even after 95 per cent vaccination rates (pictured, shoppers in Sydney)
Unvaccinated people in NSW will be allowed to enter the same venues as the vaccinated from December 15, something that is prompting some doctors to push for the rule to remain in place, The Daily Telegraph reported.
They are currently required in shops and shopping centres at all times, but can be taken off to eat and drink.
Masks are no longer required in offices but are needed in share spaces including lobbies and lifts.
The state’s health minister said it was ‘understandable’ the rules would remain as other parts of the world experience further outbreaks of coronavirus.
There are fears the virus could spread significantly in retail settings with millions shopping before Christmas, prompting health officials to make an 11th hour bid to get the face coverings compulsory (pictured, shoppers when lockdown restrictions eased)
‘At times like the mad retail rush we’ll see at Black Friday and Christmas it becomes pretty clear why Health will be likely to have continuing concerns,’ Mr Hazzard said.
It’s believed the new premier will face a divided party room over the issue as he looks to continue his popularity with post-lockdown management.
His cabinet will meet to discuss ongoing restrictions and mandates on Thursday, with certain rules expected to fall faster than previously predicted.
‘Any potential changes to the road map will take into account the evolving nature of the pandemic and consider the relevant health, safety and economic advice,’ a spokesman for Premier Perrottet said.
NSW Health said masks are ‘particularly effective in indoor settings’ and hinted that will be the advice put forward to ministers at the key meeting.
‘Wearing masks in indoor settings and on public transport provides an important layer of protection from Covid-19 transmission, as it does in other settings where physical distancing may not be possible or is difficult,’ a spokeswoman said.
Unvaccinated residents of NSW will be allowed to enter the same venues as the vaccinated from December 15, further increasing the priority to keep mask mandates in place, according to some health officials (pictured, shoppers in Sydney when lockdown ended in October)