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Nationwide ‘growing pressure’ to return to masks amid worsening COVID wave

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Queensland’s chief health officer says there is “growing pressure” nationwide to return a mask mandate.

There have been 34,931 new COVID cases reported in the past 24 hours and COVID-related deaths across the country have steadily increased over the past few months, with the daily death toll hitting its highest level since February.

Queensland CHO John Gerrard told 4BC radio that the return of mask mandates was “discussed” with his counterparts in other states.

But Dr Gerrard said he would personally prefer to overturn the public health warrants.

“We want to move away from restrictions, towards more self-regulation and self-responsibility – that means being up to date with your vaccines,” he said.

Federal Agriculture Minister Murray Watt said the progression of COVID-19 was “very concerning”.

“As far as masks go, we haven’t received any health advice on that at this point at the federal level. Those decisions tend to be made by state governments,” he said.

“I know this is something that health officials have been discussing nationally, but we haven’t received any advice on this at this time.”

Third wave of COVID puts pressure on hospitals

Currently, 3,272 COVID patients are in hospitals across Australia, according to figures reported so far today.

Authorities warned of a third wave of COVID-19, driven by two new variants BA.4 and BA.5, which was expected to put pressure on the healthcare system.

Earlier this week, Dr Gerrard said we were entering a “different phase” of the pandemic.

“There will be continuous waves with new variants for months or even years, and the era of public health guidance is coming to an end,” he said.

Dr Gerrard said people over 65 and those who are immunocompromised should get a fourth dose of a COVID-19 vaccine because it prevents serious illness and hospitalization.

“I’m really worried that almost every patient we see in the hospital is out of date. [with their vaccination]these are mostly people over 65,” he said.

“This variant is particularly nasty in that it can evade immunity, whether through a vaccine or natural infection.”

Dr Gerrard said while he did not necessarily support the return of restrictions, he was concerned about the wave to come.

“It could well be a similar number of patients or even more than in this first wave, in the coming weeks, as we head into winter.”

The ABC has contacted Queensland Health to find out if it is seriously considering reinstating the mask mandate.

“The Chief Medical Officer of Health meets regularly with colleagues and other key stakeholders to discuss public health measures as part of the COVID-19 response,” a department spokesperson said.

“Any changes to existing measures will be communicated to the public.”

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