Australian State of Victoria Mandates Protective Masks Indoors Again

Australian Associated Press is an Australian news agency.
December 22, 2021 Updated: December 22, 2021

Protective masks are again mandatory in all indoor venues outside of the home for people in the Australian state of Victoria aged eight years and over, in a bid to curtail rising COVID-19 cases and the spread of the Omicron variant.

Acting Premier James Merlino announced indoor mask rules will be expanded in hospitality, entertainment, and office settings from 11.59 p.m. on Thursday.

Face masks will also be required at all major events with more than 30,000 patrons, but can be removed while seated outdoors.

Merlino described the mandatory measures as modest and common sense.

“This is a sensible response which will allow businesses to stay open, bars and restaurants to continue to stay open, and major events to go ahead,” he told reporters.

“Masks are a cheap and effective way to maintain the health of the community—it’s something public health experts have been calling for.

“The updated mask rules will remain in place until at least January 12.”

This comes after Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Wednesday called for a “common sense” approach to measures, saying there was no need for states and territories to mandate masks.

“Mandates are enforcement mechanisms,” Morrison said. “Mandates also require enforcement, and that requires resources to be applied to enforcement.”

“Wear a mask in an indoor setting, you don’t need to be forced to do it. It’s a very clear message, wear a mask.”

Victorians are also recommended to work from home over the festive season and hospitality venues should consider moving to seated service-only.

Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley also urged people to “save their dance moves for dance floors in well-ventilated outdoor areas.”

Merlino said a lockdown was not being considered because of Victoria’s high vaccination rate.

The state government will also pour an extra $31 million into supporting the commonwealth’s COVID-19 booster program, while awaiting advice on reducing the third dose interval from the expert immunisation panel.

“The interval needs to be shortened and the interval needs to be shortened immediately,” the politician said.

“That’s the view of Victoria. That’s the view of New South Wales. That’s the view of jurisdictions across the country.”

Twenty-eight more pop-up vaccination sites will open in the coming weeks and the state’s stable of 50 fixed sites are set to extend operating hours to 12 hours a day across the entire week.

Melbourne’s Royal Exhibition Building clinic had been due to close in December but will now remain open until March 2022.

Victoria reported 2,005 new coronavirus cases and 10 deaths, marking the state’s highest daily infection figure since Oct. 22.

With active cases rising past 14,000, community health service provider cohealth has hired an extra 60 staff to support COVID-19 infected people in Melbourne’s west isolating at home during the festive season and into 2022.

It represents a doubling of their staff, who are dropping off festive foods to isolating households on Christmas Day and doing telehealth appointments this week.

Meanwhile, Victoria’s testing system continues to strain under the weight of holidaymakers seeking a swab for interstate travel, with at least 20 sites across Melbourne temporarily closed as of 9 a.m. after reaching capacity.

Australian Associated Press is an Australian news agency.