Victoria has changed its mask advice as coronavirus cases continue to soar in the state.
Another 288 people were diagnosed with coronavirus in Victoria today, a massive increase from Wednesday’s 165 positive cases.
Advice on wearing masks in public has been murky for weeks with health officials tentatively suggesting Australians should wear them only in situations where they’re unable to socially distance and in regions where community transmission is happening.
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But Victoria has taken that advice a step further today, advising anyone living in a hotspot to wear a mask when away from home.
“There has been, for some time now, there has been a bit of debate about what point masks become important,” Victorian Premier Dan Andrews said today.
“We think we are at a stage now and the advice to me from the Chief Health Officer and supported by the AHPPC and supported by others is through an abundance of caution, through the fact it is relatively easy, we should request of all Victorians when they are out of their home, and this relates principally to metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, when you are out of your home for one of those four permitted reasons (you should wear a mask).
“When you can’t maintain that 1.5m social distance, so whether you are in an Uber or a taxi or if you are on public transport, many other examples, or even for the shopping of basics you need when you need them, even a homemade mask or another mask, it is our request of you, it’s not compulsory, we are simply asking that if you can wear a mask where you can’t distance, that is exactly what we would like you to do.”
Mr Andrews said mask use was now seen as a “feature of our response to the pandemic” and said it would be recommended for the foreseeable future – likely “many, many, many months”.
“Now is the time to do that common sense thing and to that end we already begun the process of getting two million reusable masks made and we will be able to then distribute those throughout the community,” Mr Andrews said.
“We will also in the interim provide up to one million additional single use masks. I think there are some priority groups that probably will receive those single use masks in the first instance.”
The premier said they would not be “compelling people” to wear masks but “we just need to be all conscious to work together”.
Victoria’s chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton defended the delay in the government encouraging mask use across the state’s hotspots/
“With respect to masks, really, up until the last couple of weeks it was ambivalent evidence and there weren’t really strong recommendations coming out in Australia in relation to them,” Prof Sutton told reporters.
“ A big Lancet meta-analysis, so a study of a number of other studies’ data, showed that masks make a significant difference, potentially even understanding that people don’t always wear them perfectly that they don’t provide perfect protection, but when they are worn very broadly across a population where people can’t distance that 1.5m then they can make a difference, they can reduce transmission by up to two-thirds.
“That’s a really important addition measure and we are trying to do absolutely everything in Victoria to drive transmission down, it’s a really important additional tool.”
The National Cabinet also formally endorsed wearing masks in Melbourne today.
“The advice has, for places where there is ongoing community transmission, so this for the moment is greater Melbourne and the Mitchell shire – the overarching advice is people should stay at home unless they need to go out,” chief medical officer Dr Paul Kelly said today after National Cabinet.
“Assuming that people do need to go out, what has not changed is if people have symptoms and they need to go for a test, for example, which we would definitely encourage, they should wear a mask.
“Other people, where physical distancing cannot be guaranteed, they should also wear a mask in Melbourne and Mitchell shire.”