Coronavirus Victoria: three more deaths and 363 new cases reported as masks made mandatory in Melbourne

Victoria has recorded 363 new Covid-19 cases and three more people have died as premier Daniel Andrews announced face masks will be made mandatory across Melbourne as the state attempts to control a second-wave outbreak of the virus.

At a press conference on Sunday, Andrews appeared wearing a face mask and said residents in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell shire would be required to wear “masks or face coverings”, including bandannas or scarves in public from midnight on Wednesday.

“This is on the advice of the chief health officer that it’s a relatively simple thing but it’s also about embedding behaviour which I think is just as important on the other side of this second wave as it is in bringing these case numbers down,” Andrews said.

“Most of us wouldn’t leave home without our keys, we wouldn’t leave our home without our mobile phone. You won’t be able to leave home without your mask and then wear it where it is absolutely essential to stop the spread of this virus.”

The new rule will be enforced with fines of $200, but Andrews said he hoped “that not one single fine needs to be issued”.

The state’s health minister, Dr Brett Sutton, conceded that the prevalence of high numbers of cases in the state more than a week after it re-entered lockdown had gone against the expectations of health officials, but said he hoped the new rules around masks “can make a real difference”.

“We are in a bit of a numbers rollercoaster at the moment, but with no absolutely clear sign that numbers are decreasing, I hope the trend moves in that direction,” he said.

“But the recommendation on masks is really because it’s one of those, against, low-cost, relatively easy, small imposts that can make a real difference in transmission … It is a new norm.”

Meanwhile New South Wales has seen its highest increase for three months, recording 18 new Covid-19 cases including three “who have no identified links to known clusters”, prompting the state government to flag concerns about people attending hotels, restaurants, gyms and social gatherings.

In Victoria, Andrews said the government would provide more information on the distribution of masks, and said there would be exemptions on the rule, including for people with a medical reason, children younger than 12, those who have a professional reason, or when exercising.

Teachers will not have to wear a face covering while teaching but students will be expected to wear a mask on the way to and from school.

“Otherwise, if you’re leaving your home for one of the four reasons, you need to cover your face. The government will work with Victorian industry and unions to provide advice to workplaces in the coming days,” Andrews said.

The 363 new cases across Victoria on Sunday marked another increase after it recorded only 217 new cases of the virus on Saturday. Last week the state saw a number of record increases, including 428 cases on Friday.

Three people – two men and a woman – all in their 90s, had died from the virus over Saturday night. It brings the number of deaths from the virus in Victoria to 38. There are now 2,837 active Covid-19 cases across the state, including 130 people in hospital and 28 in intensive care units.

The state’s health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said the state of emergency in Victoria had been extended until midnight on 16 August.

On Sunday public housing residents in North Melbourne were released from a two-week “hard” lockdown after the outbreak in Victoria prompted the state government to enforce a dramatic lockdown of a number of residential towers in the city.

Resident Ali Abdalla poses for a photo outside the Albert Street public housing tower in North Melbourne,.
Resident Ali Abdalla poses for a photo outside the Albert Street public housing tower in North Melbourne. Photograph: David Crosling/AAP

The enforced shut-in of public housing residents at 33 Alfred Street since 4 July ended late Saturday night, meaning residents can now leave their homes for food, medicine, exercise, study and work – like the rest of Melbourne.

However, up to a third of the tower’s residents, who either have the virus or are a close contact of someone who does, will be required to remain in their units until they are cleared.

The NSW government has also announced it will double the size of its contact-tracing team and put a cap on international arrivals.