A group of prominent health experts has written a letter calling on the NSW government to introduce a range of new restrictions — including mask wearing outdoors — to help stop the spread of COVID-19 in the city.
- The letter calls for tighter restrictions, a new vaccine strategy and stricter mask wearing in NSW
- A range of other public health experts have also called for NSW to introduce ‘stage 4’ restrictions
- The NSW government said it is ‘listening’ but will rely on its own experts
In the letter addressed to the NSW and Federal health ministers, it calls for mask wearing outdoors and all settings indoors, harder restrictions and for the AstraZeneca vaccination to be followed by Pfizer vaccination as the second dose.
The experts claim that would increase the take-up of the AstraZeneca vaccine.
The letter was instigated by five prominent health professionals, including Kirby Institute public health professor Lisa Maher, paediatric cardiologist Kate Jardine, anaesthetist Nany Malek and two GPs, Judy Huang and Lorraine Baker.
The call for harder restrictions is backed by a growing list of health professionals, including Burnett Institute chief executive Brendan Crabb.
The Burnett released modelling on Monday that said stage 4 restrictions as seen during Victoria’s 2020 outbreak — which included outdoor mask wearing — were needed to control the delta variant outbreak in Sydney.
Professor Crabb said wearing masks outdoors would help “change habits” in NSW.
“Sydney has room to move in their restrictions. [We] think they should do so immediately,” Professor Crabb told the ABC’s 7.30.
“If we want this to decline to a rolling average of less than five cases a day, we are going to have to do more if that is going to happen in a reasonable time frame.”
Dr Jardine, a signatory to the letter, said restrictions needed to be “ramped up significantly” in Sydney.
She said although outdoors was “the safest place to be” mandating outdoor mask wearing would make sure people had their mask with them when they left their home.
“I think it is sensible to wear masks outdoors just in the event of running into another person,” she said.
“Or in the transition phases where people are [let’s say] they are coming out of the apartment and moving through a shared space in the apartment and then going outside.
“I think the only situation where it would be reasonable not to wear a mask would be very vigorous exercise outside where you are not in close proximity to another person.”
The call comes as NSW recorded 89 new cases of COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm on Monday, taking the number of cases in the latest outbreak to 767.
The NSW government has mandated mask use on public transport, in residential building common areas, in non-residential indoor areas and in airports.
Outdoor mask wearing was mandated during Victoria’s most recent outbreak, but NSW Health has so far resisted calls for it to become policy in greater Sydney.
NSW Health last week confirmed there had been no reports of outdoor transmission of the virus — apart from what it called a “crowded outdoor cafe” — during the latest outbreak. A spokesman said there had been “no update” to those reports.
Experts say the risk of outdoor transmission of COVID is possible, but the odds are much lower than indoor transmission. A review of recent international studies found fewer than 10 percent of COVID infections occurred outdoors.
Responding for calls for tighter restrictions, Health Minister Brad Hazzard said on Tuesday those people “don’t see the data and the information that we have”.
“We are in a democracy, they can give us the benefit of their wisdom and we listen.
“But the people we listen to most and form our views on are the public health officials, (Chief Health Officer) Dr (Kerry) Chant and her team, and I will rely on them.”
Call for Pfizer over AZ
The letter also called for governments to allow those who have had the AstraZeneca vaccination as their first jab substitute to get a Pfizer vaccination as the second dose.
It said this regime had been shown to be “highly effective” from European data.
Speaking on Tuesday, Dr Chant dismissed the call and said there were “constrained supplies” of Pfizer.
“The evidence about the second dose of AstraZeneca is that the side effect profile from the second dose is very much reduced,” she said.
“If you have had your first dose of AstraZeneca, please talk to your GP about bringing that dose, potentially forward to six to eight weeks.
“I would urge people at the moment, the best priority we can have is vaccinating with the AstraZeneca.”