Independent MP Monique Ryan, a former child neurologist, has slammed coalition MPs for not wearing masks in the House of Representatives.
Ryan, who ousted Josh Frydenberg from his inner seat at Kooyong in Melbourne in May’s election, was heckled by the coalition benches after she asked Health Secretary Mark Butler how the government intended to deal with the looming burden of the long Covid.
As MPs interjected, she interrupted her question and pointed to the opposition benches to say, “Put on your masks.”
She later said she didn’t appreciate being interrupted “while speaking about serious risks of repeat Covid infections”.
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“I particularly don’t appreciate being interrupted by screaming LNP MPs refusing to wear masks. We all have a duty to look out for one another,” she said on Twitter.
Since Parliament resumed last week, there has been a clear split in the House of Representatives, with all Labor MPs wearing masks compared to just a handful of Coalition MPs.
Nationals Michael McCormack, Mark Coulton, Andrew Gee and Darren Chester wore masks, along with Liberals Karen Andrews, Angie Bell, Rowan Ramsey and Andrew Wallace.
Ryan had asked Butler about the risk of repeat infections with Covid-19 as the number of cases in Australia reached record highs.
“Repeated infections with Covid-19 tend to be more severe and carry a high risk of persistent symptoms over a six-month period, as well as an increased risk of hospitalization and death,” she said.
“There is an increasing risk of cumulative neurological and cardiovascular disease from Covid-19 infections.
“Can the Minister please explain how he proposes to address the forthcoming national significant burden of disability and chronic disease from repeated Covid-19 infections?”
Butler said Covid was still “devastating” the community, estimating up to half of all Australians have been infected this year and there is a need to “get a grip” with the long Covid.
“Long Covid is not easy to diagnose or treat,” Butler said.
“More and more Australians are suffering from long-term, multisystem illnesses that are proving difficult to diagnose and treat.
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“It is becoming increasingly clear to me that nationally we need to develop a focused response to the long Covid phenomenon.”
Butler said he has already started talks with chief medical officer Paul Kelly about a long-running Covid strategy but said the focus is on getting through the current Omicron surge.
The government has been reluctant to reintroduce mask mandates, with Butler saying widespread mandates are only necessary in the “emergency” phase of the pandemic.
“I think the health authorities and the chief health officers … have really moved into a position where people have to make their own decisions about how they behave, how they protect themselves, and how they protect others around them.” , Butler said earlier this month.