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Australian State Mandates Masks to Fight COVID-19  Outbreak  

A person in a protective face mask walks along the Princes Bridge amidst a lockdown in response to an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Melbourne, Australia, July 17, 2020. (AAP Image/Daniel Pockett via Reuters)

Face coverings will be compulsory in the locked-down Australian city of Melbourne beginning Wednesday as the COVID-19 crisis intensifies. Residents can only leave their homes for work, study, exercise and other essential business. Australia has had 12,428 confirmed coronavirus infections and 126 people have died.

The face-covering order is the first of its kind in Australia, which has recorded more than 500 new cases of COVID-19 in the past 24 hours. It is the single biggest daily increase since the pandemic began. Most have been detected in the southeastern state of Victoria.

Outbreaks have been reported at more than 40 nursing homes, and several prisons have been put into lockdown.

Bandanas, scarves and handkerchiefs are all acceptable as the people of Melbourne are ordered to cover their faces outdoors. Residents are being given official advice on how to make their own masks from clothes and shopping bags.

“It is not an exact science because we are still learning about this every day," said associate professor Philip Russo from Monash University. "We know that it is transmitted through close contact, so physical distancing is our first action in our prevention, and when physical distancing cannot be maintained and that is when masks can come into consideration.”

As the crisis continues, travel between Victoria state and other parts of Australia, is being heavily restricted and more stringent border controls put in place.

About 2,400 new COVID-19 cases have been reported in the past week across Australia. It is a significant number. Since the pandemic began almost 12,500 infections have been diagnosed.

The spike in cases is undermining Australia’s previous successes in tackling the virus.

This week, a judicial inquiry began into how infected travelers returning to Australia from overseas could have spread the disease while in mandatory quarantine in Victoria. The hearing was told that many recent infections in the state could be linked to breaches in hotel security.