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Public transport union wants face masks mandated but experts remain divided

Public transport experts are calling for the wearing of cloth masks to be mandated on trains, buses and trams as COVID-19 restrictions ease and Australians return to work, but medical experts remain divided on whether they are necessary.

The transport union’s call is in line with a growing push from medical professionals around the world for mandatory face masks, including in Australia where the “Masks for All” campaign protests against the official advice they are not needed.

Associate Professor David Allen, an occupational physician involved in the campaign, said multiple studies around the world showed cloth masks reduced the risk of spreading SARS-CoV-2 through droplets, including by people without symptoms.

“A large proportion of the spread is from people who don’t know they have the virus … It’s a low-cost, simple intervention and, in those countries that do have it, the risk of transmission is measurably lower.”

Australia’s chief nurse, Alison McMillan, said on Friday the advice of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s (AHPPC) infection control group remained that “there is no evidence for the need of general use of masks in the community”.

McCauley, Jacks (2020-05-22)

But Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone backed the AHPPC’s position, saying wearing a mask created more problems than it solved.

“It gets itchy, hot and uncomfortable and that promotes people who are not trained in infection control to touch their face more often,” he said.

Leading virologist Ian Mackay from the University of Queensland said while masks could prevent the spread of droplets, “it doesn’t seem necessary right now [as] the benefit is quite small”.

McCauley, Jacks (2020-05-22)

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Public transport expert Mathew Hounsell from the UTS Institute for Sustainable Futures said while he was unsure if mandating cloth masks was necessary, their use should be “very strongly encouraged” on public transport for the duration of the pandemic.

McCauley, Jacks (2020-05-22)

Citation: McCauley, Jacks (2020-05-22)

Dana McCauley, Timna Jacks. 2020-05-22, “Public transport union wants face masks mandated but experts remain divided” Sydney Morning Herald, Fairfax Media LtdNine Entertainment Co.