Deputy CMO Says Wearing Mask Incorrectly Can Be 'More Dangerous'
Health authorities have reiterated advice that Australians should not be wearing face masks while out in public if they don't have any flu-like symptoms.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly addressed concerns around face masks again on Saturday, saying the advice to Australians had not changed.
"In terms of mask use in the community, I would stress again, at the moment we do not think that is a good idea, partly because of constraint in supply," Kelly told reporters.
Kelly said authorities were focused on increasing the number of masks in the national stockpile, including from overseas suppliers and through building domestic capabilities for Australia to make its own masks.
"These are very important, crucial steps to make sure that our healthcare workers on the front line are feeling safe about caring for people with this highly infectious disease," Kelly said.
He said while face masks can be useful to stop the spread of the disease where people have symptoms, the advice from health authorities remains that if a person is sick, they should be staying at home.
"If you are sick and you need to seek, for example, health professional support, please ring ahead and there will be appropriate ways of dealing with that safely when you get [there]."
Kelly addressed that a number of other countries, including the US, were changing their advice around the use of masks in the general public.
Overnight in the US, the Centres for Disease Control and Prevention, issued new advice for people to wear cloth-based covering in public places, and particularly in crowded areas.
While Kelly said the use of masks was still not recommended for the Australian public, he confirmed health authorities were "actively looking" at how the safe and effective use of masks could be put in place for the community in the future if needed.
He said as Australians are not used to wearing face masks generally, using them incorrectly could make it more dangerous.
"For example, if you are not used to wearing a mask, it can become quite uncomfortable, even claustrophobic," he said.
"And indeed, it can become quite itchy underneath the mask. So touching a surface with the virus, scratching yourself underneath the mask, could in fact increase your risk rather than decrease your risk."
Australia has so far confirmed 5544 cases of COVID-19, with 30 deaths.
On Saturday, Kelly said while daily infections rates had "definitely" decreased since last week, it was important Australians remained "hypervigilant".
"There is a period between being infected and being diagnosed with the disease, and it's about a week," he said.
"So it generally will take two or three weeks after introducing a measure before we see the full effect of those things. So at the moment we are tracking quite well, that flattening of the curve we have talked about for some time now appears to be happening."
"What I really would caution against is thinking we have got through this completely, because we definitely have not," he added.
"But some of these restrictions are very tough, and I think it is incredible and extraordinary how Australians have embraced these different ways of living."