Victorian study claiming mandatory masks stopped second wave shredded by experts

A “world-first” Australian study which Victoria’s government has held up as proof its mandatory face mask policy worked is riddled with basic errors and should never have been published in a major journal, medical researchers and experts say.

Victoria first made face masks mandatory outside the home in Melbourne during its second coronavirus wave in July 2020, but the Department of Health has been unable to provide any scientific research or studies upon which the decision was made.

Instead, the Department of Health directed to a paper published in July this year by the Burnet Institute – an influential public health body which has come under fire in recent months for its alarmist predictions – as justification for the mandate which has resulted in thousands of dollars in fines for Victorians.

The study claimed the mandatory face mask rule had turned the pandemic “almost overnight”.

“There has been a lot of low-quality research that has come out in the pandemic, but for this to be used as a basis for a policy change is staggering,” said Dr Kyle Sheldrick, a medical researcher and PhD candidate at the University of NSW.

Melbourne made outdoor masks mandatory in July last year. Picture: David Crosling/NCA NewsWire
Melbourne made outdoor masks mandatory in July last year. Picture: David Crosling/NCA NewsWire

‘I agree, it’s crap’

Dr Sheldrick was one of a group of independent scientists who recently highlighted major issues in a number of studies held up by proponents of the drug ivermectin to treat Covid-19.

“To me it’s very clear this has not had a close peer review, partly because of the serious and substantive issues, but [also] it just clearly hasn’t been proofread,” he said.

“When I look at this particular piece of research, it is very, very low quality. I was staggered to see this was published by a major journal.”

Another researcher, an eminent Australian clinician and scientist who spoke on the condition of anonymity, was equally scathing.

“I agree, it’s crap,” he said.

“It’s extremely lightweight. I think it’s a totally feeble article. It doesn’t have a rigorous methodology and it is weak in its scientific inference. I’ve been around a long time – I teach how you do clear thinking, I teach how you do reproducible science. I’m a bit of a stickler for these things.”

Study of Delta strain in NSW schools, childcare finds most spread by staff

Most of the Covid-19 spread in schools and early childcare centres during Australia’s Delta wave was driven by staff, new research reveals.

Murdoch Children’s Research Institute experts also said face masks for grade three students and above would help reduce the virus spread, while face masks for prep to grade two children was recommended but not “mandatory” given the challenge of getting them to comply.

The institute studied data from June 16 to July 31 when the Delta variant was spreading in NSW.

During this time, 34 students and 25 staff across 51 schools or early childhood education and care centres (ECEC) had Covid-19.

In NSW, the highest transmission risks were between staff members and from staff to children.

Child to child transmission was less common, but household transmission was very high.

Most Covid outbreaks in schools and ECEC centres occurred when attendance was restricted, suggesting cases may have been driven by essential workers and unvaccinated adults, researchers said.

Delta was about five times more transmissible than previous variants, but most children and adolescents continue to have no or only mild symptoms, researchers found.

Face masks worn by grade three students and above will help reduce the spread, researchers said.
Face masks worn by grade three students and above will help reduce the spread, researchers said.

Infections have since fallen in NSW — despite ECEC centres being open — suggesting even though there have been outbreaks in these settings, young children contribute little to the spread.

The institute’s research informed the return of students to Victorian classrooms and measures to keep schools Covid safe.

MCRI Associate Professor Margie Danchin urged schools and ECECs to adopt new state government measures as quickly as possible to curb the risk of spread and help avoid future school closures.

The “three-Vs” government plan includes vaccination of staff and students, improving ventilation, staggering school days start and finishing times, and trialling rapid antigen testing for staff and school attendees in high community transition areas and special schools.