Victoria’s death toll from the coronavirus has risen to 39 with more than 200 new cases as new rules are set to be introduced for Melburnians to wear masks or face $200 fines.
Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Monday morning there were 275 new cases of COVID-19 recorded overnight and a woman aged in her 80s has died.
Mr Andrews said 28 cases were connected to known outbreaks, 247 were under investigation with 147 in hospital and 31 in intensive care units.
On Sunday, Victoria recorded 363 cases with another three deaths, two men and a woman all in their 90s, bringing the state toll to 38 and the national figure to 122.
“We had a very big day Friday and we had a substantial drop-off, even though we had done more tests. This shows you that it is a wicked enemy, it is unable and until we bring some stability to this, we won’t be able to talk about a trend.
“I am much happier to be able to report a lower number than a higher one.
“We shouldn’t lose sight of the fact that I know a day in this pandemic feels like a month, we are all very clear on that. We still haven’t reached the two week mark. It won’t be until Wednesday that we get to the full two weeks of the stay at home orders across all of metro Melbourne,” he said.
“I don’t want anyone to think that just because we have had a couple of days where we have seen a decrease, that somehow a corner has been turned and we can be less vigilant about following these rules.
“This is our new normal, at least for the next four and a bit weeks,” Mr Andrews said.
Meanwhile, Melburnians are preparing to wear masks or face a $200 fine as efforts to control the “rollercoaster” rise in coronavirus cases ramps up.
There are now 2913 confirmed cases of the coronavirus across the state.
Mr Andrews on Sunday announced masks will be mandatory from 11.59pm on Wednesday for residents of Greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shire.
The state’s chief health officer Brett Sutton has described the rise in coronavirus cases as “a numbers rollercoaster”, warning there was “no absolutely clear sign that numbers are decreasing”.
The two areas remain in lockdown, with people only allowed to leave their homes – with a mask on – to exercise, buy groceries, care or care-giving and to go to work or school if they cannot do so from home.
More than 700,000 students from prep to Year 10 will return to remote learning on Monday while students in Years 11 and 12, and students in specialists settings continued to attend campuses across the lockdown areas.
Teachers and staff will be required to wear masks outside the classroom and students will have the option of wearing masks or face coverings, and will receive free masks as of Monday.
“I know this is a difficult time for everyone, particularly for our students and for parents in a home learning environment,” state education minister James Merlino said on Monday.
“I want to reassure you that the Government is providing all the support we can to make sure that we get through this difficult period safely and well and our students are learning at home, or on site at school,” he said.
He said the government had 1.2 million single use masks which will be distributed to all government schools in Melbourne and Mitchell shire.
Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity, told Nine’s Today program masks will help control the virus spread.
However, it could take more than a week to know if it is working.
“Any time you introduce an intervention with attacking this coronavirus you don’t see the result for about seven to 10 days which makes things very tricky,” she told Nine’s Today program.
The move to make masks mandatory comes as health authorities confirm about 80 per cent of the state’s new cases since mid-May were driven by workplaces including staff working at several aged care facilities, abattoirs and large distribution centres.
“So workplaces are a big part of our challenge,” Mr Andrews said on Sunday. “That’s where a lot of our problem is.”
There now 216 cases of coronavirus linked to 40 aged care facilities across the state.
As the state continues to battle the COVID-19 outbreak, the inquiry into Victoria’s now-infamous hotel quarantine program starts on Monday, led by retired judge Jennifer Coate and assisted by Tony Neal QC.
No witnesses will be giving evidence on Monday and the final report is expected to be handed down mid-September.
About 80 per cent 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.”
NSW tightens borders as new clusters emerge
Meanwhile, NSW will introduce tighter border restrictions for people wanting to enter the state from Victoria.
From midnight on Tuesday, a border zone will be set up along the Murray River, with criteria for cross-border travel to be tightened.
All current travel permits will be cancelled and residents in the border zone who wish to move between the states will have to reapply.
Travel will only be allowed for work, education or for medical care, supplies or health services.
“The growing rates of community transmission in Victoria have us on high alert,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said in a statement.
He said the new protocols will make it harder to obtain a permit and make it easier for the government to cancel them.
If NSW residents travel beyond the border zone into Victoria, they will be forced to self-isolate for two weeks when they return.
From Monday afternoon, border residents will be able to check online to see if their address falls within the new restrictions.
Among the changed permit requirements, staff or students of boarding schools or universities must self-isolate for two weeks and obtain a negative swab before attending school.
Seasonal workers from Victoria are also banned from entering NSW.
NSW recorded 18 new cases in the 24 hours to 8pm on Saturday, while Victoria recorded three deaths and 363 new cases on Sunday.
The tougher moves come as NSW students return to school from Monday.
“The concern in Batemans Bay is the ageing population down there and the transient nature over the school holidays of the population,” NSW Police Minister David Elliott told the Seven Network on Monday.
“Make sure you don’t put yourself in a position or situation where you can pass (the virus) on.”