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FREE masks provided to public transport users

FREE masks provided on public transport to encourage the use of masks in high-risk spots.

FREE masks will be handed to maskless public transport passengers to boost lax use, as official Covid-19 modelling shows the Omicron wave has peaked.

Under state law, masks are mandatory in high-risk spots and trains, buses, trams or ride-share cars such as cabs and Uber vehicles.

Free masks are provided in schools and other facilities, such as residential aged care.

Cabinet’s Emergency Management Council authorised a new public transport compliance operation, which will include taxpayerfunded masks being issued.

Premier Peter Malinauskas denied the SA Health and Transport Department checks were a “crackdown”, or the government was imposing a mask mandate by stealth.

He repeated assurances a new mask mandate was not being “actively” considered, despite UniSA imposing new cover-up rules and a return to online learning, on advice from chief public health officer Professor Nicola Spurrier. Prof Spurrier, who last week left Covid isolation, has told MPs she has not advised for a statewide mask mandate.

Speaking after new modelling showed the third Omicron wave peaked a fortnight ago, Mr Malinauskas said public transport teams would educate rather than fine.

From next week authorities will be stationed at various interchanges to “encourage” travellers to follow the law.

Masks will also be available to passengers if “they had forgotten one”, the Premier said.

“I wouldn’t describe it as a crackdown, I would describe it as an effort to get compliance and education right,” Mr Malinauskas said.

“I think there are people who get on buses and trains who simply forget to bring them – it’s an easy thing to do. “At various stages of the pandemic everyone’s been in that situation. This happens. “But I don’t think a draconian response is necessary at this point.”

MPs heard last week public transport compliance was of particular concern in the southern suburbs. Police Commissioner Grant Stevens said while there would be no additional officers, health authorities would investigate ways to enforce laws.

“The position still stays the same, that it is strongly recommended,” he said.

“(Our) role in compliance is something that’s necessary when we have significant concerns regarding community spread and there’s a stronger emphasis on making sure people are doing the right thing.”

He said the modelling was a “positive” sign the state was past the worst. Latest data shows more than a third of eligible patients, or 310,000 people, have a fourth “winter” dose – the highest of mainland states, Health Minister Chris Picton said. SA Health is working with chemists and GPs to boost rates, he said.

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