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NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian has finally introduced a mandate for wearing masks inside shops, salons, cinemas, churches and on public transport across Greater Sydney from midnight on Saturday.
After months of resisting the potentially unpopular move, Berejiklian announced that masks would become mandatory in a variety of indoor situations, including gaming venues, in the NSW capital and also in Wollongong, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains.
“We would never dare impose upon our citizens any restrictions unless we thought them absolutely necessary,” she said.
A $200 fine for not wearing a mask will not be introduced until Monday, and children under the age of 12 and people with certain medical conditions will be exempt.
The Premier also announced that immediately she was taking a week’s holiday, and thanked the public for their support in following the rules.
“I thank the community for your patience but also say a strategy is to make sure people can go about their daily business with as little impact as possible but there are things we are putting in place of midnight tonight,” she said.
“The first one, which we have been talking about for a long time, is strengthening what we do in relation to wearing a mask. From midnight, masks will be compulsory in certain indoor settings.
“We will be making sure that compliance or enforcement occurs from Monday so we will not fine you until Monday, the fine would be $200 … If you go to shopping centres, catching public transport, attending an end of entertainment venue like the cinema, you have to wear a mask.”
Berejiklian explained masks would also be compulsory in places of worship, hair and beauty salons, gaming areas of establishments and hospitality venues.
“None is a surprise. We have already strongly wanted people to wear a mask but we do not want to restrict people’s ability to go about [their] business but we want to increase economic activity and mask wearing in these settings will ensure we have the confidence to do that,” she said.
“We have been talking about this for months and months but … the reason it is happening now is you want to make sure to give confidence to business and people holding down jobs that you can continue about your activity … so long as you wear a mask in those indoor settings where there is a higher risk of transmission.”
Berejiklian has been recommending mask wearing in situations like catching public transport and in shopping centres for some time without actually making them compulsory, despite increasing pressure from critics.
The Premier also changed the rules for large events held in outdoor settings from numbers of 5000 down to 2000.
People attending the cricket test at the SCG in January will be required to stay in allocated zones.
The mandate came after NSW recorded an overnight new infection figure of just seven people, and restrictions were relaxed for residents of Sydney’s lower Northern Beaches.
All residents of the upper Northern Beaches, past North Narrabeen, will still be under the Christmas-New Year restrictions until at least January 9.
NSW opposition leader Jodie Mackay weighed in on the debate on Saturday afternoon, saying the Premier had been “dragged kicking and screaming” into the mask mandate.
“We have been calling for the mandating of masks and indoor venues and public transport for some time now,” she told a news conference.
“We know … with Victoria moving down this path and also the pressure from health officials from epidemiologists, frontline workers and doctors, that the Premier really had no choice but to go down this path.
“It is about managing risk and the Premier should have implemented this some time ago.”
But Mackay criticised the decision to allow the SCG test to proceed, saying that “having 24,000 people at the cricket is not the way that you manage the risk”.