If you’re a Woolworths shopper in New South Wales, the ACT or parts of Queensland, you’re being “strongly encouraged” to wear face coverings.
If you’re in Victoria, it’s academic: every man, woman and child in that state has to wear them by law.
But if you’ve got questions about just how strongly you’re being encouraged in those other states, or which supermarkets in Queensland are affected, or whether Coles will be following suit, you’re not alone – here are some answers.
Who is covered by the announcement and when does it start?
Woolworths says the advice applies to staff and customers at all of the company’s stores in NSW and the ACT from Monday.
In the case of what Woolworths called “hotspot” areas of Queensland, it said customers and staff would be encouraged to wear face coverings from Saturday.
The announcement doesn’t just apply to Woolworths supermarkets either, with the company’s other businesses also affected, including:
- Dan Murphy’s
- Big W
- ALH Group hotels
Woolworths chief executive Brad Banducci said the announcement was a response to the current situation around COVID-19.
“Just given where things are at, we feel that we need to role model what is the right behaviour,” he said.
Does ‘strongly encouraged’ mean I can still shop without a mask?
Yes, it’s not a mandatory requirement, and Mr Banducci has stressed this point.
Customers have the choice. If they don’t [wear a mask], then that’s fine, they are welcome in our stores,” he said.
However, he said if customers don’t wear masks, they are still asked to do other things – for instance, making use of hand sanitiser dispensers at the front of stores and keeping 1.5 metres away from other customers and staff.
How does this announcement compare to the official advice?
Professor Michael Kidd, Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer, addressed the issue on Friday morning.
I think people should be considering wearing masks, but particularly in those areas where we have community transmission,” he said.
He also referred to Woolworths’ decision, saying going to the supermarket was one situation in which people may get closer to you than 1.5 metres.
This is the current state-by-state advice:
- In New South Wales, the Federal Department of Health says people should wear face masks in situations where they cannot practice social distancing. On Wednesday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian also said it was “good policy” for staff to be encouraged to wear masks at hospitality venues
- In Queensland, this is the advice on mask use on the State Government’s website: “You don’t need to wear a face mask unless your doctor has told you to or you are caring for someone who might have COVID-19.”
- In the ACT, this is the advice: “In general, if you are healthy you do not need to wear a mask. This is especially true given there is no evidence of community transmission in the ACT.”
Victoria wasn’t a focus of Woolworths’ announcement because mask use will already be mandatory for every Victorian outside their home from 11:59pm Sunday (this is already the case for Melbourne and Mitchell Shire).
Did Woolworths discuss any of this with health officials?
Mr Banducci was asked if he had sought the opinion of Australia’s Chief Medical Officer.
He responded by saying the company followed all national and state-based health advice, and that it also had its own medical advisory board.
“There’s no way we would move before taking the right advice,” Mr Banducci said.
What are the Queensland hotspots and do we know which stores are affected?
In a statement, Woolworths said the Queensland supermarkets affected included:
- Browns Plains
- Browns Plains Westpoint
- Chatswood Hills
- Park Ridge
A Queensland Health contact tracing and testing response has focused on Logan and Brisbane’s southside after two women who returned to Queensland from Melbourne tested positive to COVID-19.
How has Coles responded?
In a statement, a Coles spokesperson said the company would continue to take the advice of state governments on mask use in stores.
“Health authorities continue to advise that physical distancing and regular hand-washing are still the best defence against COVID,” they said.
However, the spokesperson also said that “in addition to wearing a mask while shopping”, Coles asked that shoppers continue to shop safely by following measures including:
- Using provided hand sanitiser
- Social distancing
- Shopping alone (if possible)
- Using tap-and-go payment
Coles said the company had masks available for workers in NSW and Queensland, but said their use was not mandatory.