Masks to be made mandatory in Melbourne as cases rise
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews says masks and face coverings will be made mandatory in Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire from 11.59pm on Wednesday.
Mr Andrews said Victoria has recorded 363 new cases of coronavirus over the past 24 hours including three deaths.
People defying the rules will face a $200 fine, Mr Andrews said.
Mr Andrew said the face coverings did not necessarily have to be a "hospital-grade mask".
"It can be a scarf, it can be a homemade mask," he told reporters.
Mr Andrews said common sense would guide the police's enforcement of the fines and that he hoped the requirement would lead to a change in behaviour.
"We are going to be wearing masks in Victoria, and potentially in other parts of the country, for a very long time. There's no vaccine to this wildly infectious virus, and it's a simple thing but it's about changing habits," he said.
It comes after a "concerning" increase in cases in recent days and the lack of people voluntarily wearing masks in public areas where they cannot safely social distance.
The three latest deaths, two men in their 90s and a woman in her 90s, bring the total to 38 deaths in Victoria since the pandemic began.
Another 26,674 tests were conducted on Saturday, bringing the total number of tests in Victoria to 1,305,186.
Mr Andrews said while the hard lockdown of the North Melbourne public housing tower was lifted on Saturday night, 123 of the residents remained in isolation after testing positive for the virus or being a close contact of a positive case.
VIRUS FINDINGS COULD SAVE LIVES
Earlier it was revealed that COVID-19 symptoms fall into six distinct categories which could help medical professionals forecast whether a sufferer will require a ventilator or other serious breathing support.
The findings have the potential to save thousands of lives.
The UK research team say the findings could give healthcare providers several days advanced warning of demand for hospital care and respiratory support.
It might also help identify patients at risk of becoming seriously ill, meaning home support could be provided so that any deterioration is spotted quickly and hospital attendance is timely.
The current average time to get to hospital with COVID-19 is 13 days.
"Anything you can do earlier to stop people coming in half-dead is going to increase the chance of survival and also stop clogging up hospital beds unnecessarily," said Professor Tim Spector of King's College London, a co-author of the work.
The findings from data gathered through a British research app could help identify priority patients, potentially saving thousands of lives.
The Kings College London's Covid Symptom Study performed an app data analysis of 1,600 patients in the UK and US between March and April.
The researchers studied whether particular symptoms tended to appear together and linked early symptom clusters to the aggression and "type" of COVID-19 infection.
They found that it was possible to predict those who would need to be hospitalised based on the clusters of early symptoms.
Three "severe" clusters were identified.
The first causes fatigue, the second confusion and the final one causes abdominal and respiratory issues.
The team found that patients were more likely to have these severe types if they were older, overweight and suffered from underlying conditions.
They then developed a model to predict which cluster a patient falls into and their risk of hospitalisation based on their age, sex, body mass index and pre-existing conditions.
This prediction tool could provide an early warning on who is likely to need intensive care based on their early symptoms.
Generally, a continuous cough, fever and loss of smell are the three main symptoms of the virus but others include headaches and diarrhoea.
These clusters become progressively more severe over time, starting from having flu-like symptoms with no fever to having a fever followed by also suffering from diarrhoea.
Study author Dr Claire Steves said if you can predict these vulnerable people earlier, "you have time to give them support and early interventions" to reduce hospitalisations.
TREASURER'S COVID EXEMPTION
Australia's acting Commonwealth Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly has said the total number of COVID-19 infections have risen to 11,441.
This is an increase of 233 from yesterday, 217 of those are in Victoria.
There are now 119 deaths nationally, as he shared the virus's reproduction rate - known as the R rate, and said Sydney was not taking the COVID-19 spread as seriously as Melbourne.
He said Melbourne has an R rate of 1, but Sydney has an R rate of 1.4.
The reproduction rate for COVID-19 is about 2.5 according to the Health Department.
A rate of 1 means a person with coronavirus can spread it to another but if it is under 1 it means the spread is slowing.
"It certainly is not over in Victoria," he said.
"That R effective number is virtually at one in Victoria, which is a good sign. In New South Wales on the other hand, … people are more mobile, they are mixing in greater numbers, and there are suggestions from that modelling that people are not taking those messages about physical distancing, hygiene; those key messages about decreasing the risk … as seriously as they currently are in Melbourne. So the R-effective rate is 1.4. That demonstrates that the potential for transmission is higher in NSW.
"That does not necessarily translate to an increase or decrease in the numbers of cases but it gives us a sense … the message to people in southwest Sydney is please be careful, please do not take this time to have large gatherings either at home or outside the home, and to take those messages of physical distancing, personal hygiene, hand washing and so forth very seriously."
Prof Kelly said Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg will get a special exemption to be able to enter Canberra to deliver his economic update on Thursday, but will have to take precautions.
confirmed that despite parliament being cancelled, Mr Frydenberg will get an "essential worker" exemption to enter the ACT from Melbourne.
Thursday is expected to be a big day for the Morrison Government, when it will unveil its next round of financial support for those out of work under the JobKeeper program.
"There is an exemption for essential workers in the quarantine arrangements that have been set up by the ACT Government, and the restrictions on the treasurer will be along those lines," Prof Kelly said.
"The Treasurer is coming for an important economic statement next week, and we are working through that, I have been working through that today with my ACT counterpart, and I hope to have that resolved by this evening.
"But essentially, if he comes there will be restrictions on what he can and can't do, and that will have to be agreed both between myself and the ACT chief health officers in the first instance, and with the ACT government as well."
Prof Kelly would not confirm if he would meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison.
US SHOCKED BY SPIKE IN AUSSIE CASES
Not long after Donald Trump complimented Mr Morrison on how Australia has handled the COVID-19 pandemic, the US, already left reeling by the virus, has been stunned at the sudden surge of infections here.
Prime Minister Morrison said President Trump was "very complimentary" of Australia's response to the coronavirus "and the responsibility we take in the region" in a call between the two leaders on Friday.
But now as America learns the extent of the "second spike" of coronavirus infections in Australia, that has resulted in a return to lockdown in Melbourne, they are in a state of shock.
"Until now, Australia had been heralded as a global leader in combating the novel coronavirus, which is why a sudden surge in cases came as a shock," read a story from American broadcaster ABC News.
"Nearly 5 million residents in the hardest-hit city of Melbourne were just emerging from a two-month lockdown, beginning to enjoy the easing of restrictions, before they were told to go back indoors for six weeks - allowed to leave home only for essential purposes."
According to the Department of Health, Australia recorded 233 new cases nationally since yesterday with 217 from Victoria.
A total of 118 Australians have now died after Victoria reported two new deaths overnight.
There are 2,700 active cases nationally with "almost all of those in the greater Melbourne and Mitchell Shire", Prof Kelly said.
PARLIAMENT NOW CANCELLED
That sobering news came as the next sitting fortnight of federal parliament has been cancelled, due to concerns of the growing coronavirus situation in Victoria and New South Wales.
Mr Morrison confirmed the August 4 sitting would not go ahead following advice from Prof Kelly.
"He advises that, despite proposed mitigation measures, the risks posed by a parliamentary sitting are significantly higher and unlikely to be resolved in the next month," Mr Morrison said.
The acting CMO's advice was: 'The entry of a high-risk group of individuals could jeopardise the health situation in the ACT and place residents at unnecessary risk of infection. In addition, the health risk to Members and Senators and their staff from other jurisdictions is a material concern."
Mr Morrison said the Government could not ignore the risk to parliamentarians, their staff, the staff within the parliament, and the broader community of the ACT.
"It is not feasible nor desirable to hold a sitting of parliament that would exclude parliamentarians from a single state," he said.
"Our Commonwealth parliament should have representatives from all members of our federation and it is the duty of Parliamentarians to attend parliament, if it is scheduled."
Parliament will next meet on August 24.
The return of lockdown in Melbourne and the shuttering of federal parliament has coincided with a record increase in the daily number of virus cases. According to the World Health Organisation, the total of cases rose by 237,743 in the 24 hours to midnight Friday.
US CASES SURGE ONCE MORE
The COVID-19 epidemic in America is once more blowing up at an exponential rate, even as leaders of some of the worst-hit states resist mandatory mask measures to stem the spread.
Health authorities reported 78,000 new cases over the past 24 hours, according to the database run by Johns Hopkins University.
The number of patients hospitalised for the virus is at its highest level since April 23, according to The COVID Tracking Project.
The death rate, which plummeted in May and June, has been rising since last week. Florida, the new epicentre, posted more than 11,000 new cases and 128 deaths on Friday (local time).
The epidemic is meanwhile spreading to new parts of the US - Idaho, Tennessee, Mississippi.
President Trump's ratings have plummeted since the start of the pandemic. Only 38 per cent of Americans approve of how he has handled the crisis, against 51 per cent in March, according to a new poll.
Top Trump aide Kellyanne Conway said on Friday (local time) the cause for the decline was that the president was no longer briefing the public about the virus daily, and suggested this could be revived.
"The president's numbers were much higher when he was out there briefing everybody on a day by day basis about the coronavirus," she said.
"I think the president should be doing that."
The near-daily task force briefings featuring Mr Trump were halted in late April amid mounting criticism over his performance.
"We've really got to regroup, call a time-out," Anthony Fauci the United States' top infectious disease specialist told Facebook's Mark Zuckerberg in a video chat on Thursday (local time).
"Not necessarily lock down again, but say, 'We've got to do this in a more measured way,'" he added.
Meanwhile, the director of the US Centres for Disease Control and Prevention co-wrote an editorial urging Americans to wear masks.
The editorial from Dr Robert Redfield and two other senior CDC officials, which was published in the Journal of the American Medical Association, argues wearing a mask is a "civic duty."
"At this critical juncture when COVID-19 is resurging, broad adoption of cloth face coverings is a civic duty, a small sacrifice reliant on a highly effective low-tech solution that can help turn the tide favourably in national and global efforts against COVID-19," Redfield and his colleagues wrote.
The CDC director has previously urged Americans, especially younger Americans, to cover their faces in order to limit the spread of the virus.
More than half of US states have issued statewide mask mandates, but a number of states that have recently reported surges in new cases - including Georgia, Florida and Arizona - have refused to do so.
TRUMP PRAISES AUSTRALIA'S COVID-19 FIGHT
It comes as Mr Trump praised Australia's response to the coronavirus pandemic.
Mr Morrison revealed he and Mr Trump had spoken on the phone on Friday (local time), declaring the two leaders wanted to see Australia and the US economy go forward amid the ongoing coronavirus crisis.
He said Mr Trump was "very complimentary" of Australia's response to the coronavirus "and the responsibility we take in the region".
"The United States is a key partner in that stability working with many other like-minded countries in the region, [and] you want to have a partner that carries their own weight, and Australia certainly does that," he said.
"We are no passenger in any relationship we have, and that is greatly appreciated by American friends."
Mr Morrison said the conversation lasted 30 minutes.
"Of course, the pandemic issues, the work that is being done by like-minded partners across the region, a lot of the global economic issues, and we were both able to speak in recent times, and both the US economy and Australian economy, our recent jobs numbers were encouraging, just as they were in the US," Mr Morrison said.
"And we both want to see our economies go forward. We want to see people back in jobs, and we share a lot of common views on those things."
The two leaders also discussed boosting Australia's defence capability amid increasing global uncertainty.
Mr Morrison updated Mr Trump on the Australian Government's 2020 Defence Strategic Update and commitment to building Australia's defence capability, including in partnership with the US.
The pair also discussed co-ordinating approaches to multilateral organisations, and their commitment to open markets and low-tax regimes.
They talked about a range of Indo-Pacific issues including working more closely with our Southeast Asian partners and other key players like Japan and India, including through the Quad.
"But the United States is our most important alliance, and it will always continue to be along those lines. It was good to be able to [bring him up to] date on what we have been doing on our front. We have [US] troops on rotation now out through the Northern Territory," Mr Morrison added.
"That is proceeding incredibly well, and this remains a big part of our joint effort. But we have a very respectful partnership with the United States, and we appreciate the opportunity to engage regularly."
Originally published as Masks to be made mandatory in Melbourne as cases rise