Victorian Premier urges Melburnians to use masks as new cases surge towards 300

Victorian Premier urges Melburnians to use masks as new cases surge towards 300

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has today called on residents in lockdown areas to wear masks if social distancing isn't possible, after a further 288 new cases of COVID-19 were reported today.

The State Government is currently in the process of getting two million reusable masks made for the public, and will also provide an additional one million single-use masks.

While Melburnians and Mitchell Shire residents have been requested to wear masks, their use is still not compulsory.

The Premier said the recommendation was made out of an abundance of caution and the fact it was a fairly easy step to take, especially in light of the rise in daily cases.

"Whether you're in an Uber or a taxi, or if you're on public transport or many other examples,even shopping for the basics when you need them...we're simply asking that if you can wear a mask where you can't distance, that's exactly what we would like you to do," he said.

Premier Andrews added even home masks would do for now, and the wearing of masks would be a feature of Victoria's response to the pandemic for the foreseeable future, potentially for many months.

"Now's the time to do that common sense thing," he said.

There are now 47 people in hospital in Victoria with the virus, of whom 12 are in intensive care. The vast majority of new cases are under investigation by health authorities, but 26 are connected to contained and known outbreaks.

"It was always going to get worse before it got better," Premier Andrews said, adding 37,588 tests were undertaken yesterday.

"We're doing more testing than has ever been done, and not by a small margin - a massive margin. I'm very grateful to everybody who has participated in that testing program, and I would urge all Victorians to follow the rules."

Chief Health Officer Drew Sutton noted the recommendation had also been made in light of a recent meta-analysis published in the medical journal Lancet demonstrating the benefits of wearing masks as one form of preventative measure.

"Really up until the last couple of weeks there was ambivalent evidence and they weren't really strong recommendations coming out in Australia in relation to them [masks]," he said.

"A big Lancet meta-analysis...is really showing that masks do make a significant difference potentially, even understanding that people don't always wear them perfectly, that they don't provide perfect protection."

But he clarified wearing a mask was no substitute for keeping a distance from people, and isolating when you're feeling unwell and getting tested.

"The numbers that we're seeing at the moment are of concern, but we do expect them to plateau in the next week," Sutton said.

"But it requires everyone to follow the stay-at home directions; those four reasons to leave home are really the only reason to leave home," he said, with those reasons being work or study; care or caregiving; daily exercise; or food and other essentials.

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has recently been considering whether the aerosol pathway - meaning tiny droplets that remain in the air from people's breathing - could be more serious in spreading COVID-19 than previously thought.

On 6 July, 239 scientists from around the world appealed to health authorities to recognise overwhelming research finding that an infected person exhales airborne virus droplets when breathing and talking that can travel further than the current 1.5-metre social distancing requirement.

Advocacy for this recognition has been led by QUT Professor Lidia Morawska, who is also director of the International Air Quality and Health Laboratory.

"Studies by the signatories and other scientists have demonstrated beyond any reasonable doubt that viruses are exhaled in microdroplets small enough to remain aloft in the air and pose a risk of exposure beyond one to two metres by an infected person," she said. 

"At typical indoor air velocities, a 5-micron droplet will travel tens of metres, much greater than the scale of a typical room while settling from a height of 1.5m above the floor."

Potential solutions to this problem include sufficient and effective ventilation, supplementing ventilation with airborne infection controls, and avoiding overcrowding. 

More to come....

Updated at 1:58pm AEST on 10 July 2020.

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