NSW makes face masks mandatory as state records seven new Covid cases

The New South Wales premier, Gladys Berejiklian, said she does not want to “restrict business activity, jobs or economic activity”, announcing new restrictions including mandatory masks, as seven new cases of community transmission of coronavirus were announced on Saturday.

Meanwhile Victoria’s hard border blocking travel from NSW took effect, with the Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, saying he would not apologise for taking tough measures to prevent virus spread. The ACT health department also announced non-ACT residents travelling from affected areas of NSW would now need an exemption.

From midnight Saturday, the southern zone of the NSW northern beaches would be subject to the same restrictions as greater Sydney, as Berejiklian said the risk had reduced there. Restrictions for the northern zone of the northern beaches remained the same, with stay at home orders in place until 9 January.

New measures were announced for greater Sydney including Wollongong, the Central Coast and Blue Mountains. Face masks will be mandatory indoors at shopping centres, on public transport, in cinemas and theatres, places of worship, and in hair and beauty premises. Face masks will also be mandatory for all staff in hospitality venues and casinos and for patrons using gaming services.

Compliance will start from 4 January when the grace period ends and people will face a $200 on-the-spot fine if they are not wearing a mask. Children under 12 are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable.

Controlled outdoor gatherings have been reduced to 2,000 people unless an exemption is granted. An exemption has been granted for the Sydney cricket Test.

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“We would never impose anything on our citizens unless we thought it was necessary, and we have learned a lot,” Berejiklian said. “We don’t want to restrict business activity or jobs or economic activity. We want to be in that state where we are encouraging people to work, to go about their daily business, although in a Covid-safe way, to allow us to manage the virus.

“I would be the last person to pretend this is a perfect science. But what we do know is that NSW has proven to be one of the best places anywhere on the planet in relation to contact tracing, in relation to the health advice we have been given.”

Berejiklian said some people might disagree with NSW continuing to hold the fireworks, which took place on New Year’s Eve, and the upcoming cricket Test.

“We appreciate what people might say about us continuing to hold those events, but also consider the thousands of jobs it keeps, consider the sense of normality it gives us,” she said.

A drive-through Covid testing facility at Auburn in Sydney
A drive-through Covid testing facility at Auburn. Masks will soon be mandatory in Sydney shopping centres, public transport and entertainment venues. Photograph: Dan Himbrechts/AAP

Meanwhile Foley said there were 29 active cases of the virus in Victoria, an increase of 12 new cases since Friday. This included 10 locally acquired cases, all of which were linked to the Black Rock Thai restaurant cluster. The other two new cases were returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

Genomic sequencing results had established the cases were directly linked to the NSW cluster, Foley said. “The genomic proof is in the pudding,” he said. Foley said he would not weigh in on how NSW was handling the outbreak there, but he made no apologies for the tough measures taken by Victoria including closing the border despite long queues and disruptions.

Foley acknowledged disruptions at the border with NSW, but said: “Be clear – the border is closed for very good public health reasons.

“We’ve been quite consistent for some time now, in fact for two weeks, that the deteriorating position in NSW was of significant concern and that the public health advice was likely to change very quickly in a rapidly changing public health environment.

“We make no apologies for closing the border. It was based on public health advice. We intend to work with the cross-border commissioner to determine precisely what the bubble arrangements will be in the next few days, as I indicated yesterday. In regards to the implications for returning travellers, the border is now closed to returning travellers.”

He said two people who absconded from authorised officers on Friday after arriving at the border from NSW would each be fined at least $19,000, adding that they had returned to NSW.

Meanwhile some Victorian testing sites reported lengthy delays of several hours as people lined up early. On Friday some clinics were forced to turn people away as they were at full capacity. The department of health said additional testing sites had since been opened and operating hours extended.

The head of Victoria’s contact tracing and response unit, Jeroen Weimar, said the Black Rock Thai restaurant cluster was now at 18 cases and cases had spread “out across a significant geography”.

“Just because a testing queue is a bit long, it doesn’t mean there is no reason to get tested and go to the beach instead,” Weimar said.” If you can’t get through the queues, I will ask you to isolate.”


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