NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard has blamed “tiredness and frustration” for an astonishing personal tirade aimed at the state Labor leader in parliament.
Mr Hazzard called opposition leader Jodi McKay a “goose”, “stupid” and a “complete pork chop” and made disparaging comments about her appearance and dress sense in the NSW Parliament on Thursday.
He said Ms McKay “needed to wear a mask” and went on to say: “If I was sitting next to someone like you in the bus, I would definitely wear a mask.”
It came after Ms McKay had asked Mr Hazzard whether NSW had enough masks stockpiled if they became compulsory to help fight the pandemic.
Mr Hazzard erupted, describing Ms McKay as Labor’s “temporary leader” and calling for her to resign or be stood down.
Ms McKay asked again: “Do we or don’t we have enough face masks?”
“You certainly need one!” Mr Hazzard yelled in response.
On social media later, Ms McKay described Mr Hazzard’s remarks as “unfitting of the minister in charge of our pandemic response”.
The pair renewed hostilities on Friday, after Mr Hazzard told Sydney radio 2GB that making masks mandatory in NSW would create “a massive demand for those masks at times when people may not need them”. That would “diminish the masks that are available”.
He also addressed his personal remarks from Thursday.
“I was tired and frustrated and I shouldn’t have responded the way I did. I’m sorry for doing that,” he said.
But Ms McKay was having none of it.
“We’ve put out 15 media releases on this, seeking clarification that we do have enough PPE … including masks,” she told the same radio station.
“Now we find out that the reason they’re not being made mandatory, in this stunning interview … is that there’s just not enough.”
Masks have become a controversial issue in NSW, as coronavirus cases continue to spread.
NSW chief health officer Dr Kerry Chant has said they are recommended in some indoor settings such as on public transport, and in places where people congregate, including entertainment venues and services at places of worship. They are also recommended for customer-facing staff in venues such as pubs, clubs and restaurants.
“By wearing a mask, you are protecting other people. If you are unknowingly infected, wearing a mask will reduce the chance that you pass the virus on to others,” Dr Chant said.
“Physical distancing is still one of the most important things you can do to protect yourself.”
But, despite growing alarm about the number of mystery coronavirus cases in NSW, the state government is yet to make masks compulsory.
NSW confirmed 11 more COVID infections on Friday, including one in a woman in her 60s from south-western Sydney that is yet to be linked to any of the state’s known outbreaks.
Of even more concern is Newcastle, which has been declared a coronavirus hotspot after three confirmed cases this week.
They are a man in his 20s, a teenager who is a close contact and another infection confirmed on Friday – and the origin of their infections has so far been unable to be traced.
On Friday, the Australian Medical Association urged NSW residents to wear a mask in public at all times.
“The government has been asking the community to do the right thing and while many people have responded, infections persist and NSW is struggling to return to the previous environment where it had no community transmission,” AMA NSW president Dr Danielle McMullen said.