Calls to make masks mandatory are intensifying after NSW Health issued COVID alerts for nearly two dozen bus routes and four train lines.
An announcement on Sunday dictated every single passenger on the X39 bus that left Pitt St
opposite Australia Square at 6.08pm on August 20 and arrived at Clovelly Rd at Carrington Road in Randwick at 6.40pm must immediately isolate for 14 days.
Two people who caught the X39, who do not know each other, have already tested positive for coronavirus.
Dr Nick Coatsworth, Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, advised to “wear masks” during an appearance on the Today show on Monday, noting it had helped to lower transmission in Victoria, which has suffered a deadly second wave.
“My message is if the cases go up, then masks will be mandatory,” he said.
“So, I think, you know, let’s all get on-board with this. It is a straightforward thing to do.
“And we need to do it in Sydney and southeast Queensland at the moment.”
Labor leader Jodi McKay, who has been a fierce advocate for the mandating of masks, shared a letter from Opposition transport spokesman Chris Minns, which was sent to Transport Minister Andrew Constance on June 10.
In the letter, Mr Minns says it is “virtually impossible to maintain social distancing on peak hour buses and trains” and calls for Mr Constance to either mandate masks or release data used to determine it would not help.
The shadow minister tweeted on Monday that there could no longer be any delay, considering the new cluster in the CBD and its spread to multiple public transport routes.
“The Government said that if face mask usage did not increase they would have to issue an order,” he wrote.
“That was weeks ago and now there is a COVID cluster from a city bus. Time to make it compulsory.”
His comments were echoed by NSW AMA president Dr Danielle McMullen.
“We have seen an increase in numbers across metropolitan Sydney and the list of transport cases is growing,” she told the Today show on Monday.
“I think it’s time we’re all wearing masks on public transport.”
Dr Coatsworth said ultimately the decision to mandate masks could only be made by the states, and it was “not an easy public policy measure” as it required enforcement.
“You have to get to the point where it’s actually going to make a substantial difference to transmission. And that’s probably not at the level that NSW has had at the moment,” he said.
Mr Constance has previously batted away calls to mandate masks on buses and trains, arguing the take-up of masks without making it a law had been on the rise and saying the government “doesn’t want to fine people” who don’t wear them.
A full list of affected public transport routes is available here.