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GPs left without medical-grade masks as consumers strip shelves

Doctors say many clinics can’t access the highly protective N95 masks, despite the state government advising medical professionals to use them, owing to a big jump in demand from ordinary shoppers.

While there was some initial resistance to adopting the more protective masks used widely in hospitals owing to the incorrect assumption that COVID-19 was not an airborne disease, a number of Australian infection control experts now argue the respirators should be subsidised or made free by the government.

America’s national public health agency, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, is reportedly considering updating its mask guidance to recommend the highly protective masks.

However, Dr Munoz warned that N95 masks are not as simple to use as other face shields. The masks are more expensive, must be changed every few hours and should be fitted to the contours of the wearer’s face, she said.

Deakin University chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said the higher-grade masks provided better protection against COVID-19 and were a helpful protective tool for vulnerable people or those working in high-risk settings.

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The masks had not been recommended for wider use because they must be properly fitted to a person’s face to be effective, she said.

“If people are putting their mask on and off, or you’re not thinking about ensuring they are tightly fitted to the size, then the extra benefits are more marginal,” Professor Bennett said.

“It really does pay to follow the instructions and go on YouTube to find out how to wear them properly because that’s where you’ll get the benefit.”

Victorian Reason Party leader Fiona Patten, who called for public face mask use in July 2020, said the Independent Pandemic Advisory Committee, established alongside the state government’s new pandemic powers, should be looking at the problem.

“Issues like this are coming up every day, it’s been nearly a month since the pandemic legislation passed, but we are still waiting for independent expertise on crucial decisions in pandemic management,” she said.

“We need whatever works. If we need N95 masks, Victorians should have access to them, particularly the most vulnerable. But it’s like the RATs [rapid antigen tests] - it’s no use saying we all should have them if we don’t have the supply.”

A Department of Health spokesperson said that P2/N95 respirator face masks “remain advised in certain healthcare settings and are recommended in other settings because their close facial fit and efficient filtration of particles are very effective at reducing the risks of COVID-19 transmission”.

“The Government has recently upgraded its recommendations on N95 masks for unvaccinated adult visitors to hospitals required to wear N95 masks from 11.59pm tonight,” the spokesperson said.

“Recommendations are regularly reviewed on the basis of evidence and the epidemiological situation.”

With Rachel Eddie

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