In the wake of Victoria’s indoor mask requirement being set to expire, businesses across the state are worried about what severe restrictions could come soon.
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Victorians are expected to wear masks in every indoor setting during Christmas if the state government adopts extremely cautious steps concerning the gentler Omicron version.
The state government decided to reinstate a mask-mandate beginning at 11.59 pm on Thursday for anyone above eight years old even though prime minister Scott Morrison only suggested they be “strongly advised.”
The chief health official Professor Brett Sutton said the strict prescription was needed because the recommendation would not achieve the desired effect.
“We typically get around 50 percent levels of cooperation or compliance with the recommendation. The range is 95-99 percent with authority,” Professor Sutton said.
“Why do you want to introduce an interim measure when you’re requiring the whole measure put in place?”
The rule applies to all indoor environments and does not apply to domestic homes, which means that people who attend family Christmas parties aren’t required to wear masks. However, those attending major events with crowds greater than 30,000 must wear an eye mask when they go outside or in common places like toilets and bars.
However, they can be removed while seated outdoors, like the MCG for the Boxing Day Test this weekend.
City shoppers – with masks, and others without – in the Bourke Street Mall on a Thursday. Photo: Tony Gough
The rules will stay in place until January 12. There’s been yet to officially confirm whether masks are required for next year’s Australian Open tennis, starting on January 17.
Masks were mandatory for all indoor non-residential settings in NSW from midnight to January 27.
It is also worth noting that the WA government also reinstated the mask mandates that were previously in place for Perth and the Peel region to the south of the capital city after a case of Covid-19.
Masks were required for indoor spaces that are not residential between 6 pm on Thursday to at least 6 am on Tuesday the next day.
Under the new Victorian laws on pandemics, health minister Martin Foley received health advice and a set of recommendations from Professor Sutton before he made an official request for limitations.
“I am bound to explore broader views, whether they are social, economic, or mental health. I have to be aware of all these aspects, and that’s exactly what I’ve done,” Mr. Foley said.
However, he didn’t give a “yes” or “no” response when asked whether he had accepted all health guidelines, but to state: “I’ve acted overwhelmingly in the direction of Brett’s advice like I always have… I’ve come to what I believe to be a well-balanced necessary, appropriate, and proportionate set of results.”
Fines for wearing masks without a permit can vary from hundreds of dollars to over $1000.
Although not required, guests are “strongly recommended” to use a sitting service at the hospitality establishments and save their dancing moves for ventilated outdoor spaces.
Revelers must wear masks dancing in any nightclub, and they are also required to wear them when going to and from the gym’s changing rooms. However, they can take them off when engaged in “strenuous exercise.”
People are also being advised not to go to the office for the holiday season, causing business leaders’ worries regarding a slowdown in the city’s growth.
The victorian president from the Property Council of Australia, Danni Hunter, warned that these changes could bring the city “immensely.”
“Melbourne’s new growth prospects are just beginning to grow,” she said. “We’re unhappy with the decision to promote work-from-home. We ask the government to think about this as a quick, clear response with the expiration date clearly in January. This will allow the maximum number of Victorians to go back to work with no masks, as quickly as they can.”
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry head Paul Guerra said he was dissatisfied by the disguised mandate.
“The chamber could have liked that mask-wearing remains an individual choice and would prefer to see this requirement lifted before office workers returning early in the new year,” he said.
“However, we are aware that wearing a mask will allow every business to be open with no density restrictions, which is essential in the current economic boom.”
Shoppers are aware that they must wear masks all the time. Image: Tony Gough
Small Business Australia executive director Bill Lang said traders harbored worries about what could happen in the future.
“It is beginning to feel very similar to March 2020, and small family businesses are becoming more concerned about the possibility that should they start to witness an increase in Covid cases following these work-from-home and mask rules are in place, the next steps would be the establishment of density limits for locations and eventually another circuit-breaker lockdown” Mr. Lang declared.
“Omicron can be a mock-test to determine what we can do as a society decide to deal with the Covid infected as the virus won’t disappear in a flash, and there will be new variations, new threats.
“We need health care settings which take into consideration the health risks posed against the emotional and financial chaos that restrictions on the extremes can bring,” he said.
The acting Premier James Merlino said lockdowns weren’t considered because Victoria was among the areas with the highest levels of vaccination around the globe.
The official described the new measures as “common sensitivities, sensible modifications” He added: “We’re not going back to lockdowns. We’re vaccinating ourselves to get through.”