A mandatory face mask order officially took effect Thursday in Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, which has become the epicenter of the country’s rising number of novel coronavirus cases.
The mandate is the latest order imposed on Melbourne’s five million residents in an attempt to control the spike in COVID-19 infections. Anyone over the age of 12 caught in public without any kind of face mask or covering could be fined up to $143, while employers who discourage their workers from wearing a mask face a potential fine of more than $7,000.
Premier David Andrews of Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital, said the face mask mandate was imposed due to the increase of confirmed COVID-19 infections, and a refusal by residents who tested positive for the virus to isolate themselves.
“They have gone out shopping. They have gone to work. They have been at the height of their infectivity, and they have just continued on as usual,” Andrews told reporters.
Victoria state posted a single-day record of 484 new COVID-19 cases on Wednesday. The city is in the second of a six-week lockdown that bans all residents from leaving home unless going to work, school, medical appointments or shopping for food.
Cross-border travel between Victoria and the neighboring state of New South Wales has been suspended indefinitely, with the exception of traveling for work, education and medical care.
The rising outbreak in Victoria state has sent Australia’s total number of novel coronavirus infections to 13,306 people, according to Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center, with 133 deaths.
Meanwhile, the U.S. reached another grim milestone on Wednesday by recording more than 1,000 deaths for the second consecutive day. California reached its own milestone on Wednesday when it surpassed New York with the most confirmed coronavirus cases. The western state has over 422,000 cases, including more than 12,100 on Wednesday, a one-day record, while New York has more than 413,000.
President Donald Trump announced Wednesday the U.S. government will provide an additional $5 billion in aid, equipment and training to the nation’s nursing homes, many of which are hot spots in the coronavirus pandemic.
According to federal estimates, nursing home residents accounted for roughly 37,000 COVID-19-related deaths.
Nursing homes received nearly $5 billion in pandemic relief funds approved by Congress earlier this year. The new package of $5 billion in aid would go toward increased testing of nursing home staff, distribution of a list of those facilities with increased numbers of COVID-19 cases, and additional training and support. Nursing homes in hot spots would get priority.
Late Wednesday, Senate Republicans and the White House said they had reached a tentative agreement on the next coronavirus relief package, which would provide about $1 trillion in aid. The legislation is expected Thursday.
Earlier in the day, the U.S. government announced it will pay $1.95 billion to American drugmaker Pfizer and German biotech company BioNTech SE for 100 million doses of a COVID-19 vaccine if it proves to be safe and effective.
The deal is part of Trump’s Operation Warp Speed initiative, which is aimed at delivering 300 million doses of an approved vaccine by January.
The U.S. continues to lead the world in COVID-19 fatalities with more than 142,300, far greater than the 81,487 deaths in second-ranked Brazil, according to Johns Hopkins University statistics. The U.S. also remains the world leader in infections, with 3.5 million of the world’s 15 million coronavirus cases.