Government coronavirus advisors are recommending face masks be worn in busy outdoor spaces and at all times in indoor public areas where people from different households mingle.
The new recommendations have been published ahead of the January 14 deadline, when the government will outline its strategy for dealing with the surge in Omicron cases, which are up some 50% on a week ago.
The recommendations are a break with earlier strategy, which only calls for masks to be worn in shops, public buildings and on public transport.
Now the Outbreak Management Team says masks should be worn in all busy places where social distancing is impossible, such as in shopping areas, at markets and during demonstrations.
Indoors in public places too, everyone over the age of 13 should wear a mask continuously, even if they are sitting down, the OMT says. This includes colleges and universities, cafes, cultural institutions, offices and at indoor events. Most of these are currently closed because of the lockdown.
In addition, masks should be of type 2 medical standard rather than cloth, because these ‘offer slightly better protection against the emission of virus particles’ than non-medical masks and also offer more protection to the wearer, the OMT said.
Type 2 medical masks include the light blue pleated masks widely available in shops and pharmacies.
Vulnerable people, however, should use a thicker FFP2 medical mask when possible, even though there are drawbacks to their prolonged use, such as breathing difficulties, the OMT said.
The OMT also says that if three children in a primary school class are diagnosed as having coronavirus, then the entire class should go into quarantine.
Schools reopened on Monday following the extended Christmas break.
The OMT is due to meet again on Wednesday to discuss the latest developments and the new government will decide whether or not to adopt the new recommendations on January 14, when the current coronavirus regulations are up for review.
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