Australians in the state of Queensland have been mandated to wear protective face masks for the entire Christmas and New Year period when indoors at retail stores, supermarkets, on public transport, at hospitals, and more.
The mandate comes into effect at 1 a.m. on Dec. 18 and will be in place for the entire state of Queensland, which is twice the size of Texas.
The mandate will be revised when the state reaches 90 percent double dose vaccinated against COVID-19.
“This is a small price to pay for your freedoms,” Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters on Dec. 17. “We are asking this to slow the spread of the virus.”
“We know Christmas is some of the busiest times of the year for families doing their Christmas shopping and getting ready. I want Queenslanders to enjoy their Christmas and their holidays,” she said.
Palaszczuk said the measure would rule out stronger restrictions and “there won’t be any lockdowns over Christmas.”
Masks will need to be worn in shops and retail centres, at hospitals and aged care facilities, while on public transport and in ride share vehicles, and at airports and on planes.
“These are largely places where the unvaccinated are mixing with the vaccinated,” the premier said on Facebook.
The announcement was made on the day Queensland locked out unvaccinated people from pubs, clubs, and other hospitality and entertainment venues. However, the mask mandate does not extend to these settings, but they are recommended.
It comes after the state opened its borders for fully vaccinated interstate travellers, some of whom have brought the virus into Queensland.
“There are a lot of people coming in here from New South Wales and Victoria,” the premier said. “There has been something like 60,000 applications for people for border passes.
“That’s a lot of people coming into our state, seeing their family and their loved ones, that we just need that protection so we can enjoy our freedoms.”
Queensland recorded 18 new COVID-19 cases on Thursday, who were infectious in communities from the Gold Coast to Townsville.
Affected communities include Brisbane South, Brisbane north, Darling Downs, the Gold and Sunshine coasts, Townsville, West Moreton, and Wide Bay.
Three previously announced cases were confirmed to have the Omicron variant, including a man who flew from Newcastle to Townsville via Brisbane.
The other two are a woman from Rochedale South who had also been in Newcastle and an international flight crew member who hadn’t been out in the community.
Another four cases were confirmed in home and hotel quarantine on Dec. 16, bringing the total to 22.
Of the new cases, 12 are linked to interstate travellers, while one was locally acquired with the source a mystery.
AAP contributed to this report.