ABC coronavirus expert Dr Norman Swan has said Canberra’s failure to mandate mask wearing weeks ago may have contributed to Victoria’s outbreak.
ABC coronavirus expert Dr Norman Swan has said Canberra’s failure to mandate mask wearing weeks ago may have contributed to Victoria’s outbreak.

Aussies ‘let down’ by government after no face mask ruling

ABC coronavirus expert Dr Norman Swan has said Canberra's failure to mandate mask wearing weeks ago may have contributed to Victoria's outbreak.

Speaking on Channel 10's The Project on Friday, Dr Swan said the spread of virus aerosol droplets could have been limited by mask wearing by the public.

On Friday, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews urged, but stopped short of mandating, the wearing of masks in public in Melbourne.

Asked about Mr Andrews' advice, Dr Swan said, "It's not before time.

"I think we would have benefited from mandating masks maybe two or three weeks ago when you started to see the suburbs in Melbourne that were hot spots.

"We will never know the difference that would have made.

"They don't protect you so much but they stop you spreading these aerosols.

"I think Victoria has been let down at a national level because the national committee advising the government has been down on this aerosol spread, that goes through the air.

"And they have been down on masks for a long time and it has been perplexing."
Dr Swan was referring to the National COVID-19 Coordination Commission (NCCC), which is based in the Department of Prime Minister and Cabinet and co-ordinates health advice for Australians on the pandemic.

Asked by Waleed Aly about the theory that if people wear masks, they stop social distancing, Dr Swan said, "There is no evidence of that - none whatsoever - in studies that have been done of masks.

"In fact, quite the opposite."

Dr Swan said if Canberra had mandated mask wearing weeks ago Victorians (above in Melbourne on June 23) might have been more protected. Picture: David Caird
Dr Swan said if Canberra had mandated mask wearing weeks ago Victorians (above in Melbourne on June 23) might have been more protected. Picture: David Caird

"When people see somebody with a mask, they tend to back off a little bit, and when people are wearing masks, it is - it is a signal that you have to distance yourself.

"So there is evidence to the opposite in that case."

Dr Swan, who has been a long-time advocate of mask wearing in his ABC reports on coronavirus and in the podcast he co-hosts, the Coronacast, said other states, particularly NSW, should be concerned.

"It is a worry for other jurisdictions as well, not just Victoria," he said.

"Particularly NSW, where there's still virus circulating.

"So you need to take a close look at NSW and see what's going to happen there.

"What we were ready for, which was good, is that we've set up good testing infrastructure ready for spot fires.

"But this is now much more than a spot fire in Victoria."

Asked if he had any advice for people wanting to go out and socialise, Dr Swan said it varied "according to where you are in Australia".

"You saw that outbreak in Byron Bay," he said.

" I would be very careful about going out if you can catch it and spread it when you've got it.

"Other states have almost no virus circulating and the message if you are watching The

Project from Western Australia, Queensland, and so on, is that what you've got to do is get tested with the slightest symptoms.

"If the virus gets in, you won't know it, if people aren't getting tested."
candace.sutton@news.com.au

Originally published as Aussies 'let down' by govt on face masks