One of Australia’s top health officials has encouraged members of the public to wear masks in coronavirus outbreak zones where physical distancing is difficult.

According to today’s report in The Age, Deputy chief medical officer Nick Coatsworth said in situations where there is community transmission, such as in greater Melbourne, the most important thing is “to decrease movement, decrease mixing and increase the distance between people … but if you are in those areas and you find that you are unable to do that, then mask-wearing should be encouraged”.

Doctors and epidemiologists are pushing for the widespread use of masks to slow the spread of COVID-19 in Australia after Victoria recorded 134 new cases and infections were detected among people who traveled from Melbourne to NSW and the ACT.

Members of the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee’s infection control advisory group met on Wednesday to debate the issue after the World Health Organisation issued a statement acknowledging “evidence emerging” of the airborne spread of SARS-CoV-2.

Director of the WHO Collaborating Centre for Air Quality at the Queensland University of Technology, Professor Lidia Morawska, who wrote the letter, told The Age and The Sydney Morning Herald “outdated” medical views about how viruses spread had been holding back the adoption of masks in Australia.

“This dogma was built on research conducted in the 30s and 40s,” Professor Morawska said.

She said more recent research had shown a single infectious person could spread the virus through an entire unventilated room.

“That made the case for masks clear,” she said.

The latest comments from Dr Coatsworth comes of the back of recent updates to directions from the World Health Organisation, which we reported on in early June 2020.

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