Prime Minister Anthony Albanese and Waleed Aly had a disagreement over face mask rules on The Project on Wednesday night.
Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly has urged Australians to wear masks indoors to stop the spread of Covid, but there is no official mandate in place.
Mr Albanese, appearing on the Channel Ten show, was asked by Aly why some state governments were not passing on that advice.
“That is not quite right, Waleed with respect,” the Prime Minister replied.
“There’s agreement on uniform going forward that it is recommended that people wear masks when they are indoors and where they can’t separate, and that’s what we’ve been out there saying and advocating very strongly.
“It’s a matter of getting the measures right. We know we have to get the health measures right because unless you do, the economic outcomes will be worse anyway.”
Aly responded by saying that in Victoria, for example, the government’s advice is not being mirrored.
“Well, from state-to-state there’s six states and two territories. It is a consensus that is there at the national level, which is my responsibility.
“Professor Kelly says that his advice to us, as late as Saturday when we had the National Cabinet meeting, was to encourage people to wear masks.
“Part of the issue here, I know speaking to the NSW Premier last week is there are mandates for masks on public transport. Only about half the people are actually doing it. Now do you get on the trains and buses and arrest people or fine people for not doing it?”
Mr Albanese said the government was also paying close attention to the mental health consequences of reintroducing restrictions on the community after more than two years of differing rules.
“The health officers are bearing (mental health) in mind as well,” he said.
“The imposition of controls on people’s behaviors has an impact on people’s health. That’s just a reality. And particularly young people, we’re seeing an increasing really problematic increase in incidents of severe consequences when it comes to young people’s health, but others as well.”
On Tuesday, there were more than 50,000 new Covid-19 cases reported across the country, with Australia having an estimated 347,756 active virus cases.
However, officials have warned the real number of active Covid cases is likely to be more than double what has been reported.
Prof Kelly said the new Omicron subvariant was much more infectious than previous strains, and scientists believe it can evade some of the protection offered by vaccinations and prior infection.
Mr Albanese also commented on the surging cost of living in Australia, which has seen the poorest residents struggle significantly as the price of goods and services continues to rise.
“We simply cannot keep all of the emergency measures that were put in place, as temporary measures, there forever,” he said.
“We have a trillion dollars of debt. Of course petroleum prices in part are as a result of what has happened with Russia’s invasion of Ukraine and the consequences that are there for that.
“But that is also having a knock on impact on inflation as well because of supply issues and the supply chain. So, if you increase petrol prices, you increase the delivery prices of food and people are seeing that in their supermarkets. We recognize people are doing it really tough at the moment.
“We have a whole range of things that we want to do that we are committed to, like cheaper childcare and other reforms, increased funding for aged care.
“We need to cover that off. You cannot cover that off if you keep these temporary measures in place forever.”
AMA President Dr Omar Khorshid said the country was getting “very close” to the point of needing mask mandates, but the government is worried about the backlash.
“I don’t know how far they [politicians] can let the numbers go while still saying we don’t need mask mandates,” Guardian reported Dr Khorshid saying.
“The governments aren’t willing to mandate it because they’re worried about the blowback.
“They know Australians don’t want mask mandates but at the end of the day they have to step up and protect the community and when that time comes I expect them to do the right thing.”