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Fines now apply for not wearing masks in Greater Sydney

From midnight Monday, police can issue $200 on-the-spot fines for individuals who are caught not wearing a face covering in certain spaces.

Masks are mandatory in all shops, public transport, cinemas and theatres, places of worship, hair and beauty businesses and aged care facilities in Greater Sydney (which includes Wollongong, the Central Coast and the Blue Mountains).

Children under 12 are exempt as are those who have trouble breathing in a mask, cannot remove a mask without assistance and those who assist the deaf and use their mouth for communication.

Mask wearing became mandatory on Sunday but there was a 24-hour grace period before police could start issuing fines.

NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said he was confident people would comply.

"I think from what I have seen around the community, many people are already wearing masks and I want to thank them for that," he said.

"Certainly in any local shopping centre, I would say about 98 per cent of people are already wearing masks."

LIVE UPDATES: Read our blog for the latest news on the COVID-19 pandemic.

However, the latest data from Transport NSW paints a different picture.

On December 31, passenger monitoring by Transport NSW found about 33 per cent of customers on buses and about 28 per cent of customers on trains were wearing masks.

For the month of December, mask wearing was at about 30 per cent across the network.

To increase those numbers, Transport NSW staff have been handing out masks to customers in hotspot areas.

Most recently, masks have been distributed at bus stops along the B-Line route on the northern beaches, Manly wharf, Central Station and Circular Quay, a spokesperson said.

Masks were also handed out in the west, at Lidcombe and Erskineville, following recent cases in these areas.

"Transport for NSW will continue to hand out masks at hotspot areas if required, however, given the Public Health Order, all customers must be wearing a mask on the Greater Sydney network, including Wollongong, Blue Mountains and Central Coast," a spokesperson said.

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Mr Hazzard said the Health department was working with Family and Community Services (FACS) to make sure masks were also available for those who could not afford them.

FACS told the ABC it was still ironing out the details on how masks would be distributed to the vulnerable.

When masks became compulsory in Victoria, over 2 million reusable face masks were distributed to agencies that serve vulnerable people.

Supermarkets, churches hand out masks

On Sunday, many supermarkets across Sydney handed out masks to customers as they entered.

"Don't know if it's a company-wide thing or an idea of the store management/staff but Woolworths Rosehill handing out masks on day one of them being mandatory is excellent stuff," André Charadia said on Twitter.

"At Woolworths today, they had an employee handing out masks at the door. One customer asked her if she had anyone abuse her & she said that getting people to wear a mask was easier than bringing their own plastic bag. So that's something," said Clair, who didn't wish to give her surname.

Mr Hazzard said he was pleased to see retailers doing this.

"I would encourage our retailers and others to partner with the Government in this. It's a community-wide effort and I think common sense has worked well so far and I expect it will continue to work well," he said.

Opposition leader Jodi McKay echoed this and called for widespread mask distribution.

"It's better to hand out a mask than a fine. In major public transport centres, we hope to see masks available just like we now offer hand sanitiser. We hope businesses get on board too."

Woolworths told the ABC they were encouraging customers who can't wear masks or face coverings due to valid medical reasons to consider making use of their pick-up or home delivery options.

Any Woolworths staff who are excused from wearing a mask for medical reasons will be issued with an "I am exempt from wearing a face covering" sticker.

Coles told the ABC they were also encouraging people outside of the Greater Sydney area to wear masks when in store.

"We [also] ask customers to continue treating our team with respect as they work hard to keep our shelves stocked and keep everyone safe," a spokesperson said.

A priest wears a mask outside church

Father David Taylor said he was pleased masks were now mandatory in churches.(ABC News: Dale Drinkwater)

Father David Taylor, Parish Priest of Manly and Freshwater, said he had no complaints from his partitioners about wearing masks during Sunday mass.

He even handed out masks to those who didn't bring one.

"I had already indicated to people previously that I wanted people to wear masks in church, before the Premier mandated it," he said.

"There's been a lot of discussion about it, and I think they were expecting it, so far people are fine."

Many other churches across Sydney, of varying denominations, also distributed masks before services.

As people adjust to the new health order, NSW Police said their focus would be on providing information and warnings instead of fines.

"We will use a very common sense approach to our policing and discretion where it's appropriate," Acting Commissioner Mal Lanyon said.

"Can I ask you work closely with the police, ensure you comply and can I also ask that you show some compassion for other workers who are in these particular industries that are now subject to the health order."

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