Face masks mandated in Melbourne workplaces: What you need to know

The Victorian state government has mandated the wearing of face masks in public places in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, with a particular focus on preventing the spread of COVID-19 in the workplace.

As of 11.59pm on Wednesday, July 22, wearing a mask or face covering will be mandatory when leaving home, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said in a statement. Those who do not comply will face a fine of $200.

There are some exceptions — people who cannot wear masks for medical reasons, or have a professional reason not to, will not have to wear a face mask.

Children under 12 are also exempt, and people don’t have to wear a mask “if it’s just not practical”, the Premier’s statement says, giving the example of when a person is running.

However, if you’re out exercising, you must have a mask on you, and wear it when you can.

The Premier announced a focus on face masks in the workplace. Since mid-May, some 80% of cases have come from transmission in workplaces, he said.

An “inspection and enforcement blitz” is set to be carried out in workplaces across Victoria, the press release said.

“WorkSafe, Emergency Management Victoria and Victoria Police will focus on at-risk workplaces, including distribution centres, call centres and meat processing centres,” it adds.

In particular, it is thought they will focus on aged care centres, including in the private sector, in a bid to prevent casual workers from moving between various locations for work.

A one-off support payment is available to workers who are forced to take time off because of a positive COVID-19 test, or who have to self-isolate.

Elsewhere, face masks will be mandatory in the vast majority of workplaces, including retail, factory and distribution centre settings.

There are a few exceptions. Teachers will not have to wear masks in the classroom, but are encouraged to don them at school, where it is practical. The same goes for students, and it will be mandatory for anyone working or studying at school to wear a mask while travelling.

It is also not thought that those working in childcare centres will have to wear masks in the workplace.

According to the statement, the government is working with Victorian industry and unions to provide additional advice to workplaces in the next few days.

Face masks continue to be recommended in the rest of Victoria, where maintaining the 1.5-metre social distancing guidelines is not possible or practical. Currently, there are no rules around wearing face masks in the workplace.

The announcement came as Victoria recorded 363 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday, bringing the total number of cases to 5696.

The state of emergency in Victoria has been extended to Sunday, August 16.

Making masks mandatory is about “embedding behaviour”, Andrews said.

“We are going to be wearing masks in Victoria, and potentially in other parts of the country, for some time,” he said.

“It’s about changing habits.”

He also stressed, however, that any face covering will do, at least for the time being.

“It need not be a hospital-grade mask, it need not be one of the handmade masks … it can be a scarf, it can be a home-made mask.”

Between 2.5 million and 3 million masks are on order, Andrews added. The first batch of about 300,000 is expected to arrive in Victoria this week, and will be distributed among the community.

There are no details yet as to how that distribution will be managed, or who will be eligible for a free mask, but Andrews suggested they may be available to older people and at GP surgeries.

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