Health Minister Greg Hunt says masks could be mandatory in Victoria

Health Minister Greg Hunt says wearing a mask in public could be encouraged or made mandatory in places like Victoria where cases of community transmission continue to pose a problem.

At the beginning of the pandemic Australian health authorities argued against the widespread public use of face masks, suggesting it is not necessary and supplies should be reserved for frontline workers.

Experts also fear it could make matters worse because people are more likely to become complacent when wearing a mask.

But the concept has caused such a divide.

On Monday Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton told ABC Radio National he’s “got a team working up some advice now”.

“We will talk about masks in those types of settings for people to choose it and provide some guidance on the masks that work and how much protection you get,” he said.

“I take the perspective that when you are really trying to drive numbers down to maintain your test and trace capability, it (wearing masks) needs to be considered.”

In many other countries masks are mandatory, and given the recent spike in cases in greater Melbourne, authorities could shift to recommending Australians wear masks in public.

Speaking on ABC 7.30, Mr Hunt said the Communicable Diseases Network of Australia and the nation’s medical network panel were working together to develop a set of protocols.

The Health Minister explained masks may be necessary if you’re on public transport and in proximity with other people or if there is a community outbreak.

“If there is a community outbreak then state and territory authorities are in a position to make decisions on whether this should be encouraged or mandatory. This is one of the items Victoria is looking at,” Mr Hunt said.

He confirmed health authorities aren’t considering this at a national level, but “it’s designed to be available locally”.

While there’s been a global shortage of many medical supplies, Australia has managed to acquire 220 million masks.

“To have those in the stockpile has been one of the most important defences we’ve been able to put in place,” Mr Hunt told the program.

When asked about the rapid rise in cases in Victoria, Mr Hunt said this could be attributed to a testing blitz, but there was no doubt there was clearly a growth in community-based cases and he urged young Australians to take more caution.

“This is an incredibly contagious disease,” he said.

Currently, the advice listed on the Australian Government website states: “While the rate of community transmission is low, the routine use of face masks in the community is not recommended.”

Experts have also said there’s no need to wear a mask unless you are sick with COVID-19 or caring for someone with the virus.

The Government website also states inappropriate use of masks is associated with risks such as providing a false sense of security, meaning individuals may neglect more important measures.

“The use of the mask alone will not prevent infection,” the guidelines state.

Many commercially available masks are also of poor quality and likely to be ineffective.

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