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Mask mandate for Victorian schools as virus cases spike

Published: (Updated: ) in Australian News by .

Minor changes to Victoria’s restrictions will come into effect at 11.59pm tonight including a new mask mandate for some primary school-aged children.

Minor changes to Victoria's COVID-19 restrictions will come into effect at 11.59pm tonight including a new mask mandate for some primary school-aged children.

Victoria's Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton today announced that school students in grades 3 and above will be required to wear masks in classrooms to prevent COVID-19 transmission.

Mask-wearing will also be "strongly recommended" for younger year levels.

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The new mask mandate will first apply to regional schools currently open and will later apply to the rest of Melbourne once classrooms reopen.

Professor Sutton said the mandate was based on evidence seen in the UK.

"The UK didn't have mask mandate where they perhaps could have," he said.

"They could have done better work in terms of ventilation in schools. We can do better than that scenario.

"Kids are adaptable. The international experience is they just make it a normal part of their experience going to school.

"Many of them will have a bit of fun with it."

Royal Children's Hospital Paediatrician Professor Jane Munro said unlike teenagers in secondary school, there was no vaccine available for primary school students.

Professor Munro said the mask mandate for grade 3 students and above was "backed by good science".

"It is simple and it is safe," she said.

"There are no health risks for a child to wear a mask. It is easy to do and it is common sense.

"We want kids to get back to school and keep them there."

Victorians will also be able to remove their masks in order to drink alcohol outdoors from tomorrow.

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"That is a reflection of a push to more outdoor recreation activities including picnics and a welcome change for many, I am sure," Professor Sutton said.

While the NSW-Victoria border bubble has been extended to include areas such as Wagga Wagga, Benalla, Buloke, Bendigo and Yarriambiack shires.

The new measures come as Victoria recorded 1838 new local COVID-19 cases and five further deaths today.

Today's number of cases for the past 24 hours is a new daily record for any Australian state or territory.

The state's five latest COVID-19 fatalities include a man in his 80s from Brimbank, a woman in her 80s from Whittlesea, a woman in her 70s from Greater Shepparton, a woman in her 70s from Knox and a man in his 70s from Moreland.

There are 620 people battling COVID-19 in hospital, an increase of 56 since yesterday, with 114 patients in ICU and 76 people on a ventilator.

Soaring triple-zero calls

Ambulance Victoria metro regional director Jerome Peyton told Today that paramedics were experiencing soaring emergency calls driven by the pandemic.

In the past two weeks, Ambulance Victoria had reported four of its five busiest days in history.

"We're getting an increasing number of job numbers. We're getting 200 COVID patients a day and this is putting a hell of stress on not only our staff but the staff at health services as well," Mr Peyton said.

Victoria's Triple Zero call system was also experiencing near-record levels of demand.

For the first time in Ambulance Victoria's history, two paramedics will no longer be deployed to each ambulance.

Instead, a paramedic will be joined by a driver from the Australian Defence Force, St John Ambulance Australia, State Emergency Service, or a student paramedic.

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Mr Peyton said the introduction of the drivers would be introduced in a staggered rollout from next week.

"When we've got the army or other services that are going to come and help us along we're going to need to build those relationships and we will build those."

Mr Peyton said the move would help relieve hard-pressed paramedics in Victoria.

"They are under a hell of a lot of stress ... It's really tough out there when people are putting on all their personal protective equipment and they're putting it on for hours, they're wearing masks for hours on end, they're wearing gowns."

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The move comes as a leading epidemiologist has warned Victoria should brace for COVID-19 cases to surge for weeks to come.

Dr Katherine Gibney from the Doherty Institute said the strain on hospitals will get even worse.

"The Burnett modelling indicated that it could even double the case numbers by the end of the month," she told Today.

"That's a worst-case scenario and I hope won't we don't go there."

Source: 9News

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