Victoria recorded 363 new coronavirus cases on Sunday, with a new mandatory face covering rule announced, due to a “concerning increase” in infections seen in recent days.
Out of the total new cases, 327 remain under investigation, while three more deaths reported overnight taking the state’s toll to 38.
The casualties concern two men and a woman in their nineties.
$200 fines for not wearing a face covering from midnight on Wednesday
The requirement for compulsory face covering will come into effect after 11.59 pm on Wednesday 22 July, and applies to residents of metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire.
“I understand this is a big shift and that not being able to see each other’s faces might be confronting. But this virus is incredibly infectious – and this is about keeping people safe,” Premier Daniel Andrews said.
“By covering our faces, we’re protecting ourselves, our families and every single Victorian. So please – just as you remember your house keys, please remember something to cover your face.”
The announcement of the measure is based on the latest advice from the Chief Health Officer and $200 fines will be imposed for not wearing a face covering for midnight on Wednesday onwards.
Despite the time-frame given before enforcement, to allow people for purchasing or making their own face covering, the public is urged to start using face coverings immediately if they have them available.
Announcing the new rule on Sunday morning, Mr Andrews stressed that there is no need for the covering to be a surgical mask.
“It need not be a hospital-grade mask, it’d not be one of the handmade masks like I was wearing when I came in today. It can be a scarf, it can be a homemade mask.”
Citing the need to bring numbers down, but also a requirement to change habits until a vaccine is widely available, Mr Andrews prepared Victorians for making the face covering part of their routine for the foreseeable future.
“We’re going to be wearing masks in Victoria and potentially in other parts of the country for a very long time,” he said.
In regional Victoria, the advice for face coverings remains at a recommendation level for situations where social distancing is not possible. However people from regional Victoria will be required to wear a face mask or cover when visiting areas of metropolitan Melbourne or Mitchell Shire for one of the permitted reasons.
Those exempted from the mandatory face covering rule include people who face medical reasons prohibiting them to wear them, kids under 12 years of age, people who are prohibited by professional or impracticability reasons, for example when running, with an expectation however for people to carry their face covering at all times when leaving home.
In school settings, teachers will not be required to wear a face covering while teaching, “but students attending for VCE, VCAL or for onsite supervision will, while everyone will be expected to wear one on the way to and from school.”
Advice for workplaces is also expected to be issued in the coming days.
Meanwhile, the state’s Health Minister Jenny Mikakos announced that Victoria’s state of emergency – which was due to end tonight, 19 July, will be extended to 16 August due to the “continuing public health emergency.”
“Today we have seen a further 20 Victorians being hospitalised, and sadly a further three lives lost. I want to express my condolences to each of those families as well,” Ms Mikakos said on Sunday.
Currently, Victoria has 2,837 active cases, with 130 patients hospitalised and 28 of those in intensive care.