The West Australian government is refusing to reintroduce its broader mask mandate despite the number of people in hospital with Covid-19 exceeding 400 as the state surpasses one million infections overall.
Heath Minister Amber-Jade Sanderson said there was no national recommendation for masks to return and the state government would continue to consider advice from WA’s chief health officer Andy Robertson.
“I think the appetite for enforcing mandates is wearing in the community and we have to take that under consideration when the chief health officers are making these recommendations,” she told ABC radio on Monday.
“The decision from the national body is not to recommend a mandate on mask wearing at this point but to strongly encourage it.
“I will be wearing masks indoors to set an example and also to help limit infection spread.”
The state has now recorded a grim 1,003,678 cases of Covid-19 since the pandemic began.
It comes as WA Health reported 5514 new infections overnight, taking the total number of active cases to 36,630.
Two more deaths have also been recorded – a woman aged in her 80s and a man aged in his 90s.
There are now a record 411 people with Covid-19 in hospital, including 19 patients in intensive care.
The Australian Medical Association WA president Mark Duncan-Smith has repeatedly called for masks to return once the state hit 350 hospitalisations, but his pleas have so far fallen on deaf ears.
Premier Mark McGowan last week refused to confirm whether he would ignore advice from Dr Robertson to more broadly reintroduce the mask mandate, which currently only exists for health and aged care facilities as well as public transport and rideshare services.
Ms Sanderson agreed it was a hypothetical but said the government had “always followed the chief health officer’s advice and nothing has changed”.
Ms Sanderson warned the new wave of the pandemic was going to get worse before it got better but urged people to get vaccinated as their best defence against the virus.
“This is going to be a really tough winter for our hospital system,” she said.
“Obviously, we’ve got Covid cases in our hospital, but we also have very high numbers of flu, so that is putting strain on the staff who are working in our hospitals.
“The Covid cases are also quite high across the border community, which also means that a lot of our important hospital and healthcare workers are furloughed, either with Covid or as close contacts.”
There are 1500 staff furloughed.
Meanwhile, Ms Sanderson said she was unaware of reports from nurses that people were being treated in hospital corridors but insisted patients would always be triaged appropriately.
“We always prefer patients to be in beds and in wards, of course, and I would certainly not expect that to be for any length of time,” she said.
“But I know that our hospitals are working at the front end and the back end incredibly hard to move patients through.”