Thousands of residents of Australia’s largest city are not exercising great freedom returned to them this week with the easing of Covid restrictions – the right to go outside without a mask.
Although Sydneysiders have not been required to wear a face mask in most outdoor circumstances since October 11, when it became the first Australian city to reach the 70 percent fully vaccinated milestone, many still go out of their homes wearing a face covering.
In images of residents enjoying their recently restored freedom to roam the city all week, many were still “masked,” although it’s no longer officially required.
This could be for several reasons: not knowing the law had been scrapped, wanting to wear one to protect vulnerable people, or not wanting to touch the mask too much when entering and exiting stores.
Experts say the less a mask is touched, the better, because it can be contaminated if someone puts it on and off often.
In images of residents enjoying their recently restored freedom to roam the city all week, many were still “masking” – even though it’s no longer officially required
Thousands of ordinary Sydneysiders may not have realized they don’t have to wear a mask outside. In the photo, people walk in Pitt Street Mall on Freedom Day
When should I wear a face mask in NSW?
You must still wear an approved face mask if you:
– in an interior space of a building other than a residence
– in an interior space on a common area for living space
– in a waiting area of public transport or in a vehicle or vessel used for the provision of a public transport service
– working in a catering facility and interacting directly with members of the public
– on a domestic commercial aircraft, including when flying over NSW.
Source: NSW Health
“From October 11…people in Greater Sydney will no longer be required to wear a facemask, or wear a facemask outside, except in limited circumstances,” said a statement from NSW Health.
There are a handful of exceptions to this particular “Friday Day” change, which forgoes what many see as the most obvious symbol of post-Covid freedom.
People are still required to wear a mask outdoors in a public transport waiting area “or in a vehicle or vessel used to provide public transport”.
That includes waiting for buses, trains, light rail, trams and ferries.
However, that rule will expire when Covid restrictions are eased again after 80 percent of the NSW public has been fully vaccinated.
That is expected to happen from October 25.
The other situation in which face masks still have to be worn outside applies to catering employees who ‘have direct contact with the public’.
Unlike people waiting for public transport, hospitality workers will have to put on their masks when NSW reaches the 80 percent milestone.
Of course, there’s no rule that prohibits people from wearing masks outdoors if they want to – which could explain the number of people who continue to “mask” outdoors.
In some cultures, especially in Southeast Asian countries, wearing a mask outdoors is common, especially for people who feel unwell or when pollution is present.
In most situations in NSW, including offices, masks must still be worn indoors, although there are exceptions indoors as well.
For example, eating or drinking, talking to someone who is ‘hard of hearing’, in an emergency situation, working alone, exercising at a gym, getting married, incarcerated or in hospital.
Children under the age of 12 and residents of retirement homes are also not required to wear a face mask.
Even when NSW is 80 percent fully vaccinated, the same rules apply.
Masks are not officially required during strenuous workouts at NSW gyms, although these may be a requirement of entry for some gyms. Fernwood Annandale gym members are pictured wearing face masks as they participate in a circuit class on Monday
Whether they had to or not, many Sydneysiders chose to continue wearing their masks after Freedom Day. Pictured are people in the Sydney CBD on Freedom Day
In Victoria, indoor masks are still mandatory in public places such as shopping malls, even after the 80 percent vaccination threshold has been crossed.
The same rule applies in NSW until December 1, when masks are only required when traveling on public transport, on airplanes and at airports, and for front desk staff.
The 2022 Will Be Better report recommends not only maintaining mask use next year, but increasing it as a way to avoid a return to lockdowns.
Women are pictured wearing face masks in Pitt Street Mall on NSW Freedom Day last Monday
“A simple policy innovation is to mandate widespread masking on a wider scale,” the report said.
Professor Tony Blakely said masks would be an important part of the ‘mix’ of restrictions needed in the future.
The southern state dropped its most despised — and bizarre — Covid restriction on Oct. 8, the need to wear a mask while drinking alcohol.