20 Jul 2020

Tighter restrictions loom if Victoria's coronavirus 'rollercoaster' doesn't slow

3:09 pm on 20 July 2020

By Rachel Clayton for the ABC

Victoria's chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton has described the state's fluctuating coronavirus cases as "a numbers rollercoaster" - and there's likely to be more twists and turns ahead.

People wearing face masks are seen at the entrance of the Menarock Life aged care facility, where a cluster of infections has been reported.  There are Covid-19 cases linked to 40 aged care facilities in Victoria.

People wearing face masks are seen at the entrance of the Menarock Life aged care facility, where a cluster of infections has been reported. Coronavirus cases are linked to 40 aged care facilities in the state. Photo: AFP

The state recorded 363 new cases of Covid-19 on Sunday, up from 217 on Saturday but down from the record high of 428 on Friday.

Sutton warned there was "no absolutely clear sign that numbers are decreasing".

The increasingly precarious situation means the state's strategy is constantly evolving, the rules keep changing and life for many people just gets more and more difficult.

Mandatory masks could be needed for 'very long time'

From Thursday, wearing a face covering will be mandatory when outdoors in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire.

The government argues it is a low-cost, high-reward tactic to help stop the virus's spread, and Victorians have been warned they will need to get used to it.

"We are going to be wearing masks in Victoria, and potentially in other parts of the country, for a very long time," Premier Daniel Andrews said.

"It's about changing habits, it's about it becoming a simple part of your routine."

There are a few exceptions to the rule.

People do not need to wear a mask if it is not practical, such as in some work settings, are doing vigorous exercise or have a medical reason.

Children under 12 are also exempt.

Any face covering, including a scarf, will suffice.

Police will initially exercise discretion when it comes to handing out penalties.

But those people caught without a mask, and without a good reason, risk an $A200 fine.

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Tighter restrictions are looming

While a move to stage four has not been announced, the government has warned it will continue to tighten restrictions if cases do not decline.

Andrews said if the government saw a "high degree of compliance", including people wearing masks and only leaving their homes for permitted reasons, further restrictions would be less likely.

"That will mean it is less likely we have to move to things like only doing that daily exercise, for instance, in your own local postcode," he said.

"Or things like saying … you can only go shopping within a certain radius or certain distance from your home.

"We don't want to get to those steps.

"If we have to, we will."

People walk along Albert Park lake in Melbourne on July 13, 2020, as five million people in Australia's second-biggest city began a new lockdown following a resurgence of coronavirus cases.

People walk along Albert Park lake in Melbourne on 13 July, 2020. Restrictions on exercise locations could be brought in if cases do not decline, the Victoria government says. Photo: AFP

Workplace transmission is the government's new target

About 80 percent of the state's new cases since mid-May have been driven by workplace transmission, the government believes.

"So workplaces are a big part of our challenge," Mr Andrew said. "That's where a lot of our problem is."

Aged care is a major concern. There are now 216 cases of coronavirus linked to 40 aged care facilities in the state.

To ensure people are abiding by physical distancing rules at work, officers from Victoria Police, WorkSafe and the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) will begin inspecting high-risk workplaces such as call centres, distribution centres and meat processing facilities.

Andrew said if transmission of the virus continued in workplaces, health authorities may make a list of which industries are and are not essential for people to be in the office.

Sutton said abattoirs, aged care homes and distribution centres were common places where the virus was spreading and it would be mandatory for everyone in those workplaces to wear a mask.

In response to the months-long spread of coronavirus in aged care settings, the federal government has announced it will supply one million masks to aged care facilities throughout Victoria, and a further million masks to disability carers.

Five testing teams will also be set up in nursing homes across metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, and federal funding will be provided to residential and home care providers to make sure staff do not work across multiple sites.

Regional Victoria's case numbers are growing

The virus is continuing to spread into regional Victoria, with an extra 10 cases reported since Wednesday.

The latest regional statistics show there are 45 active cases outside Melbourne and Mitchell Shire.

The City of Greater Geelong sits on the fringe of the lockdown area and now has 11 active cases, while Golden Plains, Macedon Ranges, Horsham and Greater Bendigo each have four.

The Australian Medical Association's Victorian branch president, Julian Rait, said he would like to see compulsory mask use expanded to some regional areas.

"The AMA's been calling for [mandatory mask use] for some weeks, the reason being early last month The Lancet published a meta-analysis saying the virus could be stopped by two-thirds or more by mask use," he said.

"But I'm very nervous about Geelong. It's hardly surprising cases are rising there because people commute between Geelong and Wyndham regularly."

Rest of the country feeling the fallout

In the past couple of weeks, barely a day has passed without another state making entry from Victoria tougher.

Yesterday, NSW tightened its crackdown on people crossing the border.

From midnight Tuesday, a strict border zone along the Murray River will be established to stop Victorians entering NSW except for "extremely limited purposes".

NSW border residents will be subject to stricter restrictions on travelling into the Victorian side of the border zone.

If they travel beyond the border zone and further into Victoria, they will have to quarantine for 14 days when they return home.

Anyone with a permit to cross the border will have to reapply for it from Wednesday, and will only be issued the permit if they need to cross the border for work, education, medical care or health supplies.

Victorians are also facing further restrictions on travel to South Australia.

The SA government has declared Tasmania, Queensland, the Northern Territory and Western Australia "low community transmission zones".

Everyone outside those zones entering SA must be tested for coronavirus within 24 hours of arrival and on day 12 of their quarantine, or face a $1000 fine.

With Victorians unable to get around the rest of the country, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced the 4 August 4 sitting of Parliament has been cancelled.

The announcement came after acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said allowing politicians to come to Canberra was a significant risk due to increased community transmission of the virus in Victoria and NSW.


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