Masks should not be mandatory in Greater Brisbane after Friday unless social distancing is impossible, say leading academics.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk has stopped short of declaring masks would no longer be mandatory from Friday (1 am) when other restrictions are set to ease, but epidemiologists want to see the rule scrapped while there is no community transmission.
Greater Brisbane residents were forced into a 72-hour lockdown on January 8 and masks were mandatory in public, even when travelling alone in a car.
The restrictions were eased on January 11 with face masks still mandatory within most indoor places.
The clampdown came after a cleaner at a hotel used to quarantine international travellers tested positive for the more contagious UK variant of the virus, but other than the cleaner’s partner also testing positive, there has been no community transmission of the strain.
Ms Palaszczuk is expected to announce masks will no longer be mandatory on Thursday, other than at airports, upon the advice of Queensland’s chief health officer Dr Jeanette Young.
Peter Collignon, a professor of infectious diseases at ANU, argued the “value” of masks when community transmission is extremely low or not occurring is not worth the “inconvenience” of wearing them.
“Whenever you have a lot of COVID transmission, or you’re not sure how much there is, they are worthwhile,” Mr Collignon said.
“If there has been no transmission and no evidence to suggest it, then the value of masks becomes very marginal … the value of masks is not all that great compared to the inconvenience.
“If you are in Sydney, Brisbane or Melbourne, where there is minimal or no transmission, there is not much value in masks and I’m loathe to say they should be compulsory.”
He said they may be of use where people are unable to social distance, such as on crowded public transport, although you’re more likely to catch the virus in your own home than anywhere else.
“There may be an argument for public transport,” he said.
“But most of the transmission occurs in the home, so perversely, that’s where I would wear a mask, inside your own home.”
Griffith University Infectious Diseases & Immunology director Nigel McMillan suggested masks be worn only within venues or in places where social distancing cannot be maintained.
“No, we don’t have to (wear masks), but it’s a good idea to keep one on you for when you can’t avoid crowds,” he said.
“Ultimately, it is up to the individual.”