Everyone in Victoria will have to wear face masks from Sunday, as more rules come into force, but Scott Morrison says even tougher restrictions might be on the way for the virus-stricken state.
Premier Daniel Andrews has also banned people in parts of the state from having guests in their homes, to stem a worrying spike in regional Victoria.
Victoria logged 723 new coronavirus cases on Thursday, the largest single-day spike in Australia’s pandemic so far. As well, 13 more fatalities were tragically added to the state’s death toll.
About 100 of Thursday’s cases and 10 of the deaths have been traced to aged-care homes, with state and federal authorities still working frantically to stabilise the crisis there. But the vast bulk are tied to the wider community, with Mr Andrews saying authorities were particularly worried about growing infections in regional Victoria.
From midnight on Thursday, people in the local government areas of Colac-Otway, Greater Geelong, Surf Coast, Moorabool, Golden Plains, and the Borough of Queenscliffe will not be able to visit others or have visitors to their homes. Mr Andrews said this was due to a worrying trend of cases in those areas being traced to household transmission, rather than people picking up the virus at work or in public.
“People are not necessarily keeping their distance in their family home. It’s a natural thing, you let your guard down,” he said, also answering questions on why pubs and restaurants in those areas would be allowed to stay open.
“Hugs and kisses and handshakes, not necessarily adhering to the protocols that are a feature of hospitality, cafes, restaurants, pubs being open. They are supervised environments. They are regulated environments.”
The Premier also announced that from 11.59pm on Sunday, the mandatory face mask order – currently specific to Melbourne – would cover the entire state, including regional areas. He said the state needed to “jealously guard” relatively low numbers in the regions, and not allow the situation to grow.
“It’s inconvenient, it’s challenging, but it’s essentially stage four for Melbourne, and it’s something we can do in regional Victoria without causing significant economic cost, but getting a really significant public health benefit,” he said.
But despite the significant expansion of public health orders, this might not be the end of restrictions for Victoria. Speaking shortly after the Premier, Mr Morrison said federal experts on the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee might yet recommend even tougher rules for the virus-hit state.
“That is obviously of great concern,” he said of the COVID spread across Victoria.
“We can’t rule out further restrictions or limitations to stem this outbreak. We’ll be sharing our views again with the Victorian government about that, based on what the AHPPC is considering today and the advice we’re receiving directly.”
When asked if that could potentially mean more nationwide rules, Mr Morrison said the committee would largely focus on Victoria.
“I don’t anticipate there being a need, based on the advice I have, for other restrictions elsewhere in the country,” he said.
Acting chief medical officer, Dr Paul Kelly, said the AHPPC would provide advice on further possible restrictions to national cabinet, ahead of its meeting tonight.
“I won’t go into the details of what that might lead to in terms of any further measures in Victoria. That’s obviously a discussion and a decision for the Victorian government, not for me or anyone else,” he said.
Speaking more broadly on the federal response to Victoria’s outbreak, Mr Morrison said aged-care centres would risk losing their accreditation if they failed to comply with rules around personal protective equipment. It comes after claims from families of residents that treatment and disposal of PPE has been sub-par.
“They need to ensure they follow those practices. They need to do that to ensure the protection of their residents, but also to protect the staff at these facilities. I want staff to feel very confident going to work each day in aged-care facilities,” the PM said.
“The PPE is there. The training has been there. We are confirming that again with visits by teams to bring and refresh that training, wherever it is needed.”
Mr Morrison also gave his strongest indication yet that the federal government would implement a paid pandemic leave scheme, to encourage people to stay home from work if they are awaiting a COVID test result or had a positive diagnosis. This comes after outbreaks at aged-care homes and other businesses being traced to people failing to isolate.
“We’re conscious of the issues and seriously pursuing them,” the PM said.