The Australian Medical Association (AMA) has called on the National Cabinet to meet, discuss and adopt a nationwide position on mask wearing and the strengthening of state borders to slow the spread of COVID-19.
In a statement AMA President Dr Tony Bartone says the adoption of mask wearing in areas of community transmission is essential, but the National Cabinet should adopt a consistent national approach to the use of masks.
It comes as the wearing of face coverings will be made mandatory in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire from 11:59pm tonight, with those caught flouting the rules to be hit with a $200 fine.
The AMA has asked the Prime Minister and the National Cabinet to commit to a unified national approach to mask wearing and a number of other proposals including:
- Releasing community transmission modelling to inform the community about virus spread patterns;
- Developing a national network of contact tracing to allow targeting of resources to areas of high need during community transmission outbreaks;
- And zero health worker deaths.
"Masks add another layer of protection to the other significant measures of physical distancing, hand hygiene, and cough etiquette," says Dr Bartone.
"The Victorian and NSW Governments are to be commended for encouraging mask use, but a consistent National Cabinet-backed approach is now needed should outbreaks occur elsewhere.
"Every Australian in current areas of community transmission must make mask use part of their daily routines."
Dr Bartone says there is already strong evidence that international and domestic border closures have been successful in curbing the spread of COVID-19, but strengthening of state borders is still required.
"Border closure works. If existing border closures were relaxed, it would create a risk of the virus returning.
"We may need to accept that continued border closures will be needed for months ahead. The international border must remain closed, and State and Territory borders also need to be managed.
"There are also very practical issues to resolve for border communities. The Albury-Wodonga and Coolangatta-Tweed Heads communities should not be disadvantaged."
Further, Dr Bartone says he is concerned that Australians are complacent and are not following public health directions with regard to social distancing.
"Physical distancing is not always being followed in many areas," Dr Bartone said.
"The uptake of mask use will need community education and nationwide product supply, and misinformation must be challenged and corrected.
"It is time for the National Cabinet to reassert its leadership with strong and decisive policies and messaging on mask use, border management, mobilising national contact tracing resources, and commitment to zero health worker deaths," Dr Bartone said.
Updated at 10:13am AEST on 22 July 2020.
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