Coronavirus pandemic

Mask up while in public, Melbourne residents told

People walking outside Flinders Street Station in Melbourne, Australia, on July 17, 2020. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE • Australia's second-biggest city, Melbourne, will make it compulsory to wear a mask in public, the authorities announced yesterday, as they step up efforts to bring a coronavirus outbreak under control.

Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital, now has nearly 3,000 active cases of Covid-19 after a further 363 infections were reported yesterday, despite a 10-day lockdown.

Premier Daniel Andrews said more than five million people in Melbourne and the neighbouring Mitchell Shire would be required to wear a mask or other face-covering in public spaces from midnight on Wednesday.

"There's no vaccine to this wildly infectious virus," he said. Masks are "a simple thing, but it's about changing habits, it's about becoming a simple part of your routine".

Failure to comply with the new rule will mean a fine of A$200 (S$195) - though Mr Andrews said "common sense" discretion would be applied to activities such as running or visiting a bank.

Bandanas and scarves will be acceptable as face-coverings until the state can boost supplies of masks, Mr Andrews said, adding that anything was "better than no face-covering at all".

The decision makes Melbourne the first place in Australia to mandate the use of face-coverings.

Mask-wearing is not common in Australia and has not been part of the country's Covid-19 response until now.

Meanwhile, Australia's other states and territories have closed their borders to people from Victoria in a bid to stop the outbreak from spreading, as most regions have not reported any new locally transmitted infections for weeks.

But the contagion has reached Sydney, where locally transmitted cases have spiked in recent days after an initial cluster emerged from an infected Melbournian who visited a popular pub.

About 60 people in Sydney are facing a fine of US$1,000 (S$1,390) each after attending a party last Saturday night and breaking the public health guidelines of no more than 20 visitors to a home, police said.

Australia has reported almost 12,000 cases of Covid-19 nationwide and 122 deaths in a population of about 25 million.


Join ST's Telegram channel and get the latest breaking news delivered to you.

A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 20, 2020, with the headline Mask up while in public, Melbourne residents told. Subscribe