Coronavirus Australia: masks the new reality in Melbourne Covid cover-up

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Coronavirus Australia: masks the new reality in Melbourne Covid cover-up

By STEPHEN LUNN, SOCIAL AFFAIRS EDITOR and KIERAN GAIR JOURNALIST

Millions of Victorians must wear a face mask in public and at work from Wednesday night, possibly for “many, many months”, as the Andrews government imposes new restrictions to rein in the state’s COVID-19 outbreak.

A further 363 new cases were reported in Victoria on Sunday, the second highest daily count behind Friday’s record 428 infections, scotching hopes of a downward trend after Saturday’s figure of 217.

Transport, imposing stricter restrictions on crossing the Victorian border.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said it was still unclear whether the situation had improved, despite the introduction of strict lockdown measures in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire almost a fortnight ago.

“We are in a bit of a numbers rollercoaster at the moment, but with no absolutely clear sign that numbers are decreasing. I hope the trend moves in that direction,” Professor Sutton said. Melburnians and those in the Mitchell Shire will be fined $200 from Thursday if they are caught without a mask or face covering while outside or at work.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews, who wore a face mask into his daily briefing on Sunday, said the face mask order could be in place for “many, many months”, and suggested compulsory masks could be introduced beyond his state. “We’re going to be wearing masks in Victoria, and potentially in other parts of the country, for a very long time,” he said.

“It’s a relatively simple thing but it’s also about embedding behaviour which I think is just as important on the other side of this second wave as it is in bringing these case numbers down,” he said. “Most of us wouldn’t leave home without our keys, we wouldn’t leave our home without our mobile phone.

“You won’t be able to leave home without your mask.”

Professor Sutton said he was recommending compulsory face masks because there was increasing evidence that international jurisdictions which enforced a mandatory regime had achieved greater success in suppressing the virus.

Mr Andrews said the government had ordered up to three million masks, the first 300,000 of which would be arriving this week, but said homemade masks could also be worn.

Mr Andrews two weeks ago asked residents in lockdown areas to wear masks when social distancing wasn’t possible, but had not made it mandatory.

Children under 12 will not be required to wear masks, nor those who have a professional reason not to. Teachers are one example, but high school students will be expected to wear them in class.

Those running as part of their exercise regime don’t have to wear them, but walkers do.

Anxiety about the threat of contracting COVID-19 is clearly growing among Melburnians, where numbers are rising in almost all metropolitan areas. Far more people on the streets are wearing masks than just days ago.

Adam Zeineddine, owner of My Oh My Espresso in Richmond, has been insisting his staff wear masks for the past two weeks. “I think we all saw this coming, especially with the growing number of cases,” he said.

“We’re happy to wear masks because we are dealing with a lot of people each day, and they are happy we’re doing the right thing by them.” Mr Zeineddine said he’d seen a noticeable shift in the public’s attitudes to masks. “So many more people are wearing them in the last few days,” he said. “I think they are taking things a lot more seriously this time around.

“They understand the virus is out there in the community a lot more than it was the first time.” Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said the federal government “fully and completely supports” the mandatory wearing of masks in Victoria. “It is necessary, and we are sorry that it has reached this point for all those who’re affected,” Mr Hunt said.

“But this is about saving lives and protecting lives.”

There were three deaths recorded in Victoria, all of whom were in their 90s. Two were from nursing homes, where numbers continue to rise.

Another three nursing homes were affected by the virus on Sunday, putting the total number of Victorian nursing homes fighting an outbreak at above 50.

The NSW government has moved to create a border zone, clearly defined along the Murray River, that will from Tuesday midnight restrict entry to NSW for Victorians to extremely limited purposes. The changes have been made in a bid to avoid a repeat of the disastrous Crossroads Hotel outbreak, where the source was a person who had travelled from Melbourne.

“The growing rates of community transmission in Victoria have us on high alert and the health advice clearly indicates we need to have stricter border closures in place, making it harder to get a permit and easier to cancel them,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

Under a permit, border residents will be restricted in their reasons for travelling into the Victorian side of the border zone and if they travel beyond the border zone into Victoria, they will be required to self-isolate upon return for 14 days. People from Victoria will only be allowed entry into NSW for medical or hospital services where those services are not available in Victoria or cannot be accessed remotely.

Critical service workers who enter NSW will also be forced to self-isolate when not working.

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