Former prime minister John Howard mingled in a room closely surrounded by at least 50 people who weren’t wearing face masks despite a surge in Omicron cases.
Australia’s second longest-serving leader, 82, was one of 250 people, who registered to attend the Menzies Research Centre’s annual lecture in Sydney delivered by another former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson, 63.
The 9th John Howard Lecture was held late on Thursday afternoon, a day after the NSW government relaxed mask rules for indoor settings, and was the first in-person event since 2019.
Mr Howard was seen in deep conversation with former City of Sydney Liberal councillor Craig Chung with little social distancing practised among the conservative crowd.
Former prime minister John Howard mingled in a room closely surrounded by at least 50 people who weren’t wearing face masks despite a surge in Omicron cases (he pictured next to the table on the right talking with former City of Sydney councillor Craig Chung)
Hornsby Mayor and NSW Liberal Party president Philip Ruddock, 78, who served as immigration minister and attorney-general in the Howard government, was also at the Wesley Centre in central Sydney, along with Michael Yabsley, a 65-year-old former state Liberal minister.
Daily Mail Australia spotted just four people wearing face masks in the common area and later the lecture theatre for Dr Nelson’s address, ‘Our National Character and Outlook: Values Matter.’
Mr Howard gave a vote of thanks after Dr Nelson’s lecture, covering the sacrifices of Australians in war, noting his career as a doctor and the head of the Australian Medical Association before being preselected for the safe Liberal seat of Bradfield, on Sydney’s north shore, ahead of the 1996 election.
‘You began as a healer of the sick and as a carer of people who needed medical attention and you rose to the organisational pinnacle of that profession,’ he said.
Dr Nelson, who was previously a GP in Hobart, said while public health orders to reduce the spread of Covid were necessary, it was up to elected politicians instead of health bureaucrats to make the decisions noting their recommendations were just ‘advice’.
The AMA which Dr Nelson used to lead has advocated lockdowns and state border closures to deal with rising Covid cases.
The gathering occurred just hours after Prime Minister Scott Morrison declared those worried about Covid should stay at home rather than demand other people stop going out.
Australia’s second longest-serving leader, 82, was one of 250 people who registered to attend the Menzies Research Centre’s annual lecture in Sydney delivered by another former Liberal leader Brendan Nelson, 63
The event was held late on Thursday afternoon, a day after the NSW government relaxed mask rules for indoor settings
‘If you feel uncomfortable about going out in other public spaces, well, you can choose to stay home,’ he said.
‘You can choose to wear a mask, you can choose many things to protect your own health.
‘But they’re your choices and we have to be careful about imposing our choices on others.’
New South Wales Premier Dominic Perrottet, who Mr Howard backed in the October Liberal Party leadership race, on Wednesday scrapped QR codes for shops and restricted face masks to public transport for members of the public.
The state on Friday reported 2,213 new Covid cases, the highest daily tally since the start of the pandemic.
Hornsby Mayor and NSW Liberal Party president Philip Ruddock, 78, who served as immigration minister and attorney-general in the Howard government, was also at the Wesley Centre in central Sydney
Michael Yabsley (left), a 65-year-old former state Liberal minister was in conversation with Brendan Nelson (right) and his wife Gillian
It surpassed the previous record of 1,742 new infections reported on Thursday.
Hospitalisation rates have also risen with 215 patients being treated in hospital – compared to 194 reported on Thursday.
The escalating case numbers are being driven by super-spreading events at large venues like pubs and nightclubs, exacerbated by the highly-transmissible Omicron variant.
Newcastle remains the biggest area of concern with three more venues placed on the exposure list and pub-goers told to isolate immediately.
In a positive twist, the number of patients being treated in intensive care has dipped from 26 to 24.
As of December 15, 93.8 per cent of NSW residents aged 16 and over had had two doses of a Covid vaccine.