Fiona Lester started work on more than 350 masks on Thursday night, working around the clock to keep up with overwhelming demand for her hand-made face coverings.
The Markets Wanniassa owner began selling masks about a week ago, as the lockdown and worsening crisis in Victoria prompted Canberrans to think about covering up.
“I’m recruiting other makers and I’ll buy the masks off them and sell them,” Ms Lester said.
“There’s a lot of local people that are preparing,” she said.
“Masks are the new toilet paper.”
ACT Health Minister Rachel Stephen-Smith said the health advice hadn’t changed and masks weren’t required for the general population.
“We don’t have any community transmission evidence here in the ACT and so the efficacy of masks is likely to be pretty limited,” she said.
Ms Stephen-Smith said it was up to businesses to make those decisions but said public health advice had been consistent.
“That is, where there is community transmission and you cannot maintain physical distancing, a mask is a very sensible precaution,” she said.
“There will be businesses if you walk into the Canberra Centre either staff are all wearing masks or they are in fact require people to be wearing masks.”
“Those decisions will be made by individual businesses on their assessment of risk.”
Australia’s deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd said customers may feel more comfortable shopping in masks in supermarkets, as it could be difficult to physically distance.
“The advice from the [the expert medical panel], it’s not about wearing masks, unless people feel comfortable doing so, particularly if you find yourself in areas where physical distancing may be difficult and as we know, supermarkets can be one of those places where large numbers of people are coming together and there may be times where it might be difficult to physically distance from others,” Professor Kidd said.
However those wearing masks should still physically distance if possible, Professor Kidd said.
“Just because you’re wearing a mask does mean that you can stop the physical distancing. So if you’re wearing a mask, please continue with the physical distancing measures, please continue with the hand hygiene measures,” he said.
“Please continue to avoid crowds and please, if you have symptoms, do not go out wearing a mask, stay-at-home and arrange to get tested.”
Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra expected other brands to follow Woolworths lead.
“What we do back is retailers protecting their employees and staff, if that means wearing masks then we’re behind the decision,” he said.
“There are hot spots in NSW and I guess that’s what many retailers are watching and concerned about.
“As the biggest retail company, [Woolworths] have taken a leadership role … you’ll probably see many other retailers follow suit.”
With many members of the public preparing to mask up, many local businesses are working to meet a new need.
Dion Devow’s company Darkies Design has been providing scrubs with Aboriginal designs to health services for years, but COVID-19 propelled forward another idea.
“We had requests from our customers to have masks done to match the scrubs,” he said.
“It was coincidental that COVID-19 happened, I always intended to do them anyway. We didn’t know there was going to be that much demand, and they’re all sold out.”
Some have been hand-made by an Aboriginal group in NSW, and some in a Sydney factory.