‘People feel left out’: as masks are removed, thousands of Australians are afraid to go out | Stage

AThis week, Queenslanders no longer have to prove they were double-vaccinated to enter entertainment and cultural venues, which are back at 100% capacity a month after the mask requirement was relaxed. And in South Australia, mask restrictions were lifted on Friday.

But more than about 700,000 Australians are, at any given time, thought to be immunocompromised – through genetic causes, as organ recipients, undergoing treatment for cancer and some infections or simply age. Many of these groups have chosen to remain in self-imposed lockdowns as Covid-19 precautions in public places are relaxed.

Sydney-based musician Liz Martin, who has a lifelong autoimmune condition, understands why so many Australians want to get out and want things back to normal.

“But we are still in a pandemic, and it would be great if we could implement many of these simple measures to help ensure the safety, health and well-being of people who are more vulnerable,” he said.

“Many persons with disabilities did not attend the event. It had a huge impact on many people who had to stay at home, they were still in lockdown to take care of their own health. They feel left out.”

The crowd at the 2022 Australian Formula One Grand Prix
States continue to enforce mask and vaccine requirements in high-risk environments, but the rules differ when it comes to entertainment. Photo: Future Publishing/Getty Images

A recent survey of more than 8,000 Australians who had attended pre-Covid cultural events found that 59% felt they were now ready to return “whenever allowed”. Among those classified as at risk for serious health outcomes from contracting Covid-19 and those with disabilities, the percentages fell to 39% and 43%, respectively.

The study, released last month by cultural sector and community researcher Patternmakers, also found that while nearly 80% of respondents were satisfied with the security measures put in place by event organizers, one in 10 expressed concern that not enough was being done.

Most states continue to enforce mandatory masks in high-risk environments such as hospitals, elderly care facilities, airports and public transportation. But when it comes to entertainment, every state is different.

In New South Wales, the use of masks and proof of vaccination is no longer required, although it is recommended, in places of entertainment such as cinemas, museums and music venues. Masks remain mandatory at indoor music festivals attended by more than 1,000 people, as does proof of vaccination certificates.

In Victoria, proof of vaccination and check-in are still mandatory at entertainment venues. The use of masks is not forced, but “strongly recommended”, in crowded places.

“I don’t think people stick to the mask-wearing rule like they used to,” said Melbourne musician Eliza Hull, who lives with Charcot-Marie-Tooth disease (CMT), a group of neurological disorders.

“I realized it as soon as it stopped being mandatory to wear masks in retail stores, that’s when people stopped wearing them at live events and hospitality venues. I think a lot of people felt they had done their part, and now they are done.

Australian musician Eliza Hull
‘I think a lot of people feel like they’ve done their part, and now they’re done’… Eliza Hull. Photo: Cathy Reynolds

“But I feel like masks are the only thing we can do as a community to protect the most vulnerable communities. And it’s very difficult for people with disabilities to see people without masks, that’s the price to pay to protect people with disabilities and people who are [health] compromised.”

The lack of uniformity in Victoria’s Covid safety laws is a source of irritation to Palace Cinemas chief executive Benjamin Zeccola, who told the Guardian while his staff of more than 500 workers across 24 theaters continued to wear masks throughout shifts, workers at events such as AFL matches and the Australian Grand Prix are allowed to work without a mask.

“The most stringent check-in requirements and vaccination enforcement requirements are in Victoria, under threat of crushing fines, burdening businesses and staff as the high cost of monitoring and monitoring leads to conflicts with customers, who truly believe they shouldn’t. ‘no need to check in anymore… Victoria seems to have had enough, protesting with helpless customer service staff,’ Zeccola said.

In Western Australia, sit-down entertainment venues such as cinemas, theaters and stadiums remain capped at 75% capacity. Masks remain mandatory everywhere indoors, other than at home, and proof of vaccination is still required for entry to most cultural and entertainment venues.

Earlier this week in the UK, Silent Witness actor Liz Carr called for separate shows for vulnerable people who still want fellow audience members to wear masks or keep their distance.

“Theater must remain accessible even to those of us with health conditions,” she said, speaking backstage at London’s Royal Albert Hall on Sunday after winning best supporting actress at the Olivier awards. “If I had a five-minute speech, I would talk about how I haven’t been to the theater in over two years. It’s been a scary night for me.”

Carr, who lives with arthrogryposis multiplex congenita and has used a wheelchair since childhood, said she felt safe on stage but would not feel comfortable in the audience.

“I was on stage with everyone testing, everyone in the cast being tested every day, so I felt safer than being a random member of the public in the audience around people I didn’t know,” he said.

Matthew Hall, chief executive of Arts Access Australia, said Carr’s idea of ​​a mask-only show could be a valuable addition to the mix.

He said he was surprised to see some of the masks worn at a recent Adelaide suburb event he attended, and said it seemed odd that holding a drink while watching a show kept a patron from wearing their mask.

Australian weekend

“It’s an option, but it shouldn’t really be necessary, if it makes sense for people to wear their masks, understanding that their behavior is a danger to others,” he said.

Martin said maintaining streaming shows, which many arts institutions have introduced during lockdowns around the world, would also help make cultural events more accessible for those who are reluctant to risk Covid infection.

“Seeing it stop and people wanting to go back to how they were and forget all the things we’ve learned over the last few years, I find it very disappointing,” he said.

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