Face masks to be mandatory in Sydney

Fireworks explode near the Sydney Opera House as part of new year celebrations on Sydney Harbour, Australia

Wearing face masks will now be mandatory in Australia’s biggest city of Sydney as locally acquired coronavirus cases have continued to increase, New South Wales (NSW)health authorities said on Saturday.

The authorities in NSW, of which Sydney is the capital city, said that face masks will be mandatory in indoor settings such as shopping centres, public or shared transport, indoor entertainment, places of worship, and hair and beauty premises.

Staff in hospitality venues must also wear face masks.

The compliance will start from January 4 and violators will face an on-the-spot fine of A$200 ($153).

Children under 12 are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks where practicable, a joint statement from NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian and Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.

Some other restrictions were also put into effect for Greater Sydney from midnight Saturday, such as 30-people cap for gym classes, places of worship and religious services limited to 1 person per 4 square metres up to a maximum of 100 people per separate area, 500-people cap for outdoor performances and protests and no nightclubs.

These new restrictions came after NSW recorded seven locally acquired cases in the last 24 hourst, with an additional 12 infections in hotel quarantine.

Among the seven local cases, five were from western and southwestern Sydney, where a new cluster of cases was growing.

The NSW health department urged people live or work in the area to get tested if they have even the mildest of symptoms.

At the same time, the neighbouring state of Victoria, which experienced months of strict lockdown in 2020 due to a second wave of pandemic, recorded 10 locally acquired cases and two in quarantine.

All the 10 local cases were connected to a cluster detected in a restaurant in southeast Melbourne, increasing the total cases to 18.

Victoria Health Minister Martin Foley said genomic sequencing confirmed the state’s outbreak was linked to Sydney’s cluster.

“It is up to both Victoria and NSW to work together to get on top of it,” he said.

Victoria had already announced closure of borders to the whole NSW from midnight Friday.

Foley said the “deteriorating situation” in NSW was a “significant concern” and public health advice was likely to change very quickly.

The island state of Tasmania announced on Saturday border closure to nine sites in Victoria and a number of premises in NSW.

Travellers who have been to these listed high-risk areas cannot enter Tasmania unless being exempted.

“We will not hesitate to take further action if we need to keep Tasmanians safe,” the state’s Health Minister Sarah Courtney said.

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