Covid Australia: Health Minister Mark Butler urges Aussies to wear masks and work from home

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Australia could face millions of new Covid cases before the end of winter with more people refusing to buy rapid tests due to cost-of-living pressures. 

Health Minister Mark Butler said on Tuesday wearing masks indoors and working from home when sick is important to reduce the spread of the virus as winter case numbers continue to soar.

‘It is the third wave just this year,’ he told Sunrise. ‘Case numbers have risen already and it is likely over coming weeks that millions of Australians will catch Covid.’

Australians were warned to start wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces as winter cases continue to rise

‘Obviously we want to limit transmission through people thinking more about wearing masks in indoor areas especially where they cannot socially distance.’

Australia recorded 41,335 new cases on Wednesday, bringing the number of active infections to 314,075.

Most cases were 20 to 29 year-olds and 4,468 need to be hospitalised. 

Mr Butler said he wants to see an uptake in Australians getting their fourth jab, insisting it will help keep hospitalisations down and reduce the pressure on the healthcare system.

Health Minister Mark Butler (above) warned Australia will see millions more Covid cases before winter ends and recommended wearing masks indoors and working from home

Health Minister Mark Butler (above) warned Australia will see millions more Covid cases before winter ends and recommended wearing masks indoors and working from home

‘We have really rolled out this campaign to reinforce the importance of getting boosters,’ he said.

‘We have expanded eligibility for Australians to get a fourth dose because we know that will lift their protection over winter.

‘We have access to antiviral medicines which are highly effective at stopping people moving in to severe illness and hospitalisation.’

The governments work from home recommendation comes as several struggling businesses in Sydney’s CBD complain empty offices are killing their businesses.

Businesses in Sydney's CBD said they were struggling to recover from the Covid pandemic since many office workers are now choosing to work from home (pictured, empty offices in Sydney)

Businesses in Sydney’s CBD said they were struggling to recover from the Covid pandemic since many office workers are now choosing to work from home (pictured, empty offices in Sydney)

Hectares of Sydney’s CBD office space remain unused, with commercial office vacancy rates in double-digit figures two years after the pandemic first broke out. 

‘We thought it would pick up after Christmas – but that never happened,’ Sonya Gee of Martini Dry Cleaning in Sydney’s glitzy Barangaroo business strip said.

‘Then we thought it would be after the summer holidays, but nope – then Easter, but no. Now we just accept this is how it is.’

Mr Butler added that while people may be sick of mandates, it’s important to keep up health standards. 

Concession card holders will soon need to pay for rapid antigen tests amid rising case numbers and new mask recommendations

Concession card holders will soon need to pay for rapid antigen tests amid rising case numbers and new mask recommendations

‘I think we have moved deep into the third year of the pandemic to a phase that people do not want government mandates, they want good advice,’ he said.

‘We need to move to a phase where this is still a very serious illness but we are moving beyond government mandates and lockdowns.

‘The advice from chief health officers is if you are in a crowded indoor space and you’re not able to socially distance, put on a mask.

‘It will not only protect you from getting infected but potentially people around you who might be at risk of severe illness.’

Meanwhile, the  Royal Australian College of General Practitioners and Australian Medical Association joined the opposition to call for the Albanese Government to reconsider removing free rapid antigen testing (RATs) for concession card holders.

Prime Minister Anthony Albanese encouraged concession card holders to stock up on the free tests while they’re still available and blamed the former Morrison Government for the free test program ending.

‘My government has not made this decision, this is a decision that was inherited from the former government and state governments,’ he told ABC Radio.

‘We inherited a range of positions from the former government and we also inherited a trillion dollars of debt.

Experts criticised the Albanese Government's decision to scrap free testing for concession card holders amid rising case numbers and cost-of-living pressures

Experts criticised the Albanese Government’s decision to scrap free testing for concession card holders amid rising case numbers and cost-of-living pressures

‘I’d encourage concession cardholders to go and get the 10 free rapid antigen tests that they’re eligible for by the end of this month. There’s still a lot of time to go and do that.’

Elderly Australians and low-income earners have been able to access free tests since January but critics say they will likely skip testing when experiencing symptoms amid growing cost-of-living pressures.

‘To end this program, at a time when we are seeing a massive increase in the number of Covid cases and cost of living pressures are seriously impacting Australians, appears premature,’ Opposition spokeswoman Anne Ruston said.

‘As we have done right the way through the pandemic, we need to be responding to what’s happening on the ground at the time and things have changed, we’ve seen another wave go through.’

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