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Australian News

Drivers upset by ‘crazy’ $311 mask penalty


Just when Australians thought they had finally got their heads around all the COVID-19 fines, authorities have pointed out another penalty relating to face masks.

NSW, Victoria and Queensland have adopted mandatory face masks for certain settings in a bid to protect against coronavirus outbreaks.

The fine for not wearing a face mask in the required settings in each of these states is $200.

But drivers have now been warned that where they choose to set down their mask while driving could also come with a hefty penalty.

The Royal Automobile Club of Queensland (RACQ) has warned drivers in Queensland against hanging their face mask from their rear view mirror while driving.

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Club spokesperson Lauren Ritchie said drivers could be hit with a $311 fine if police determine their face mask blocked their view of the road.

“Greater Brisbane drivers are naturally in the habit of having their mask handy at all times, but having a mask dangling from the rear-view mirror isn’t safe,” Ms Ritchie said.

“Drivers need to have a clear view of the road from all angles so they can easily spot other cars, pedestrians and cyclists.

“Masks can create a blind spot, increasing the risk of a crash, especially if you’re travelling on highways or busy roads.

“You shouldn’t have anything hanging on their mirror which could block your view – that includes your mask. So pack it away where it won’t be a distraction – no matter how long your drive is.”

Social media users were less than impressed after hearing about this rule, blasting it as “crazy” and accusing authorities of revenue raising.

“And will they start handing out fines to people who hang all the other sh*t off their mirrors?” one person asked.

“Just as distracting and dangerous to wear them while driving also,” another claimed.

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It isn’t just Queensland drivers that have to worry about this rule, with the majority of states and territories having similar penalties for a driver’s vision being obstructed.

In NSW, driving a motor vehicle without having a clear view of the road could result in a $349 fine and three demerit points.

In Victoria, failing to have full control and an uninterrupted view of the road could lead to a $248 penalty.

People in Greater Brisbane must wear a mask in indoor spaces, including shopping centres, supermarkets, hospitals and aged care facilities, gyms, certain workplaces, places of worship, public transport and airports.

They must also carry a face mask with them at all times when outside their home.

In Victoria, people must wear masks in the majority of the same settings and have to also carrying a mask at all times when leaving home.

People in Greater Sydney, including Wollongong, Central Coast and Blue Mountains, must wear a face mask in many of the same settings, including shopping centres, public transport, indoor entertainment venues, places of worship, hair and beauty premises, aged care facilities and airports.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced on January 8 that all people within Australian International Airport environments must also wear a mask.

People travelling on domestic flights must now mask up as well.

While masks may not be mandatory in as many indoor settings across other parts of the country, obstructing your view by hanging a mask on the rear view mirror could still result in a fine.

Driving a motor vehicle without having a clear view could result in a $287 fine in South Australia and a $203 fine in the Australian Capital Territory.

In Tasmania, driving a motor vehicle without a clear view of the road and traffic ahead, behind and to each side could result in a $172 fine.

For people in Western Australia, driving a vehicle without having a clear view of the surrounding road and traffic could result in a $100 penalty.



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Australian News

Mask rule change, UK strain risk from Qld


Face masks will no longer be mandatory in all indoor spaces across Victoria, following the state’s eight straight day of no new local cases of coronavirus.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Thursday masks will only be mandatory on domestic flights, at airports, in hospitals, on public transport, in commercial vehicles and at other retail locations.

He also said a number of Victorians in hotel quarantine in Queensland were being contacted and retested for the UK coronavirus strain after returning to Victoria since December 30.

The Premier said as a result of the COVID-19 fears plaguing Queensland, he said 18 people who had quarantined in Brisbane’s Hotel Grand Chancellor and then returned to Victoria since December 30 will be followed up.

“We are contacting them. We are testing them. Some of them will need to isolate. Some will simply need to get a negative test,” he told reporters on Thursday.

“There’s a specific window where we believe there is some chance that because of the infections that have already been recorded in hotel quarantine, between staff and residents, and it is that UK strain, without any other link … circumstances are very much based on each person’s travel movements and when they were in hotel quarantine.”

Mr Andrews said he would provide further updates on the health status of the 18 people once all of them had been contacted.

“There’s a lot of work, our contact tracing team worked throughout the night last night,” he said.

“We will continue to support and advise those people and can I say, as well, to check they are compliant with whatever requests we make of them.”

The Premier described the situation in Queensland as “serious”.

“We’re taking it very seriously,” he said. “To have 18 people who could be infected with the novel strain, that highly infectious strain out of the UK is of concern to us.

“That’s why we have settings for the Brisbane red zones as determined by national cabinet and as announced by the Prime Minister last Friday, but those 18 people are being followed up.”

Mr Andrews also announced Victoria’s return to work plans would resume from Monday.

Plans to open up 50 per cent of private office buildings on January 11, and 25 per cent of public servants, were put back a week after concerns about outbreaks that emerged in late December.

But Daniel Andrews said on Thursday the plans could go ahead with no evidence of local transmission across Victoria.

Mask rules will return to pre-Christmas levels from 11.59pm Sunday.

Victoria recorded no new cases of coronavirus on Thursday as more than 16,000 people were tested in the past 24 hours. There are 29 active cases of COVID-19 across the state.



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Local News - Victoria

Up to 50% of city workers to return to office from Monday, mask rules relaxed


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“To get to this eight days in a row of zero is no small thing and it’s a credit to all of our public health team and a credit to all Victorians who play their part in doing so,” he said.

However, Mr Andrews predicted that many Victorians would continue to work from home, saying flexible working arrangements were no longer “a concept”, but “the lived experience for many people over a long year”.

“They’re gonna want much more flexible working arrangements,” he said.

“They can do the job from home for some part of the week and they’re going to want to do that.

“I’ve had nothing but positive feedback from many, many very big employers about productivity not really being impacted, [and] in fact, in many cases, actually being enhanced by people working in a much more flexible way.”

The return-to-work schedule was pushed back last Wednesday, when there were 28 active cases of COVID-19, and a man with no apparent link to the Black Rock cluster was diagnosed with the virus.

From Monday, up to half of all private sector workers can begin working from their desks again, while Victoria’s public service, the city’s largest employer, can bring back up to a quarter of staff.

Mr Andrews said the government had capped the return of public servants at a lower setting to give the private sector more capacity to bring workers back.

The news will be welcomed by many thousands of Victorians who have been working from makeshift home offices since March.

However, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce expects the return to be a slow, drawn-out process and major employers, including NAB, Westpac and ANZ, have said their staff will return in stages, mostly from next month.

As The Age revealed on Wednesday, a Fair Work Commission survey found that only 5 per cent of workers want to return to the office full-time.

The survey of 322 users of the social media site LinkedIn by researchers at Swinburne University found that 35 per cent of participants would prefer to work from home every day, and a majority would like to split their time between home and office.

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One of the report’s authors, John Hopkins, said most employers were developing plans to allow flexible work arrangements, but, in some cases, they were insisting workers return to the office full-time.

Industrial lawyers have warned workers could be sacked if they refuse a request from their employer to return to the office once their workplace is deemed safe and the Victorian government relaxes restrictions on attendance.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said authorities were “relatively confident” there was no community transmission in Victoria, but urged people to remain vigilant.

“What we’d like to do is encourage employers to be flexible to allow staggered start times,” he said. “Employers hopefully understand the need to be flexible and to make sure that not everyone’s going into the building at the same time, but obviously it will be different for different employers.”

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Pre-COVID, almost half the estimated 1 million people who travelled into the CBD every day did so for work, leaving CBD businesses heavily reliant on office workers for financial survival.

At the 2016 census there were 37,341 residents of the CBD, almost half (45 per cent) of whom were students.

But since Australia shut its borders in March, applications by foreign citizens to study in Australia have collapsed by more than 80 per cent. The number of international students is expected to be half its pre-pandemic total by mid 2021.

Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp said having office workers return to the CBD would be a lifeline for city retail and hospitality businesses.

Mr Andrews said: “This will be a massive boost not only for the office workplaces in the heart of Melbourne, but the cafes, restaurants, bars and shops that rely on their business – it will be fantastic to see the city coming alive again.”

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Local News - Victoria

Coronavirus return and indoor mask rules will make return to Melbourne CBD offices slow: employer groups


“Each city worker that returns means another coffee bought in our local cafes, an after-work drink in our bars and pubs and extra customers for our retail stores,” she said.

But COVID-19 restrictions were increased last week after Sydney’s outbreak extended to Melbourne and community transmission began again after 61 “double doughnut” days. The new restrictions included the necessity to wear masks indoors.

Most large employers surveyed by The Age say they won’t bring back large sections of their workforce next week, even if they are able to do so.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said mandating mask use was an effective way to suppress virus transmission, but it would deter some employers from bringing staff back.

“We expect that the resurgence of community transmission in Victoria and return of some restrictions, including the requirement to wear masks indoors, will slow the return of office workers,” he said.

“We expect to see a gradual return to offices, with most [employers] indicating they will build towards 50 per cent of staff returning per day by early February.”

NAB, which has about 16,000 people across three Docklands sites, has previously said it would employ a “hybrid” model to balance working-from-home arrangements with commercial offices, and implement a desk-booking system.

In the meantime, the banking giant has told staff they must continue to work from home if they can do so, for the foreseeable future.

“Only those business-critical and front-line teams that are required to work on site, in branches and Business Banking Centres should be coming into a NAB building,” a spokesman said.

“In early 2021, we will look to accommodate more colleagues to return provided it’s safe to do so and in line with government advice.”

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ANZ had planned to bring staff back from late January or early February.

A spokesman said ANZ was monitoring the changing situation closely and would make a decision later this month about when to bring staff back to offices.

“Our plan was always to stagger the return of staff to ensure social distancing and any decision will be based on advice from government and health authorities,” he said.

“We haven’t made it mandatory for people to return to the office and if they are comfortable and can work from home, they are free to do so. However, we have made more space available should any of our people want to return to the office earlier.”

The Victorian public service – the largest employer of workers in the city – was due to bring back up to 25 per cent of its staff from Monday. A government spokesman said that subject to public health advice, the return to work goals would remain.

The Victorian public service would begin a phased return to work, with up to 25 per cent capacity from January 11, and up to 50 per cent on February 8, he said.

Acting Premier Jacinta Allan said on Monday that health authorities would review the evolving transmission rates during the week, and make a final decision about the risks.

“We need to review that over the course of this week and the public health advice again will guide that,” she said.

Acting Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan says public health advice will guide decisions.

Acting Victorian Premier Jacinta Allan says public health advice will guide decisions.Credit:Paul Jeffers

Ms Allan said the state was in “a very strong position” to slow and even stop the virus spread, and at this stage the government remained committed to allowing up to 50 per cent of workers to return.

“We’ll be having meetings over the course of this week,” she said. “The advice at this stage is that those settings won’t change but of course, as all of our settings are, they’re advised by the data and the health advice that goes with the data.”

Australian Super will not bring workers back into the office until Febrary, and a spokesman said the return would be “staged and flexible”.

Westpac, which employs about 1500 people, is in a period of corporate shutdown until January 18. A spokeswoman said the organisation planned to progressively increase the number of people working in its corporate offices when it was safe to do so.

The City of Melbourne has felt the loss of city workers keenly. Chief executive Justin Hanney said city workers comprised about half of the 1 million people who entered the city every day before the pandemic struck.

“Ensuring the safe return of city workers remains a priority to help boost Melbourne’s economic recovery and reinvigorate our streets,” he said.

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“Every extra worker we can safely bring into the city will make a major difference for our local businesses.”

Property Council of Australia Victorian interim executive director Michael Kandelaars said 61 per cent of respondents to a council survey wanted to come back to the office.

“Provided that employers have a COVID-safe plan in place and the health advice doesn’t change between now and Monday, we would continue to encourage the government to remain on track.”

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Sydney mask rules for Greater Sydney, Wollongong, Blue Mountains


Sydney residents have woken to a host of new COVID-19 restrictions on Sunday, including the mandatory wearing of face masks as authorities scramble to curb the growing outbreak.

After New South Wales recorded seven new cases of community transmission on Saturday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the time had come to introduce the mandate.

As of midnight Saturday, face masks were made mandatory in some indoor settings in Greater Sydney – including Wollongong, Central Coast and Blue Mountains.

Sydney residents have a one-day grace period before $200 fines begin to be issued for noncompliance on Monday.

Coverings must now be worn while shopping (retail, supermarkets and shopping centres), while on public or shared transport, at indoor entertainment precincts (including cinemas and theatres), at places of worship and at hair and beauty premises.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said in a statement face masks would also be compulsory for staff in hospitality venues and casinos, and for patrons using gaming services.

Children under 12 are exempt but are encouraged to wear masks when possible.

University of New South Wales Professor of Epidemiology Mary-Louise McLaws said it was “about time”.

“Masks are an important part of the infection prevention bundle,” she told the Nine Network’s Today show on Sunday morning.

“Making it mandatory takes away the decision making by somebody who may not realise that they have the early phase of COVID, and they can spread it just by breathing out and of course by talking.”

Other new restrictions include gym classes being limited to 30 people, places of worship and religious services being cut to one person per 4 sqm, and weddings and funerals have been capped at 100 people.

Outdoor performances and protests have been reduced to 500 people, and controlled, outdoor gatherings that are seated, ticketed and enclosed have been capped at 2000 people.

Night clubs are not permitted.

While the northern zone of the Northern Beaches remains under strict stay-at-home-orders, the southern zone joins the rest of Greater Sydney where authorities are advising residents to limit non-essential gatherings.

“People are still encouraged to reduce their mobility where possible to further minimise the risk of transmission in the community,” a NSW Health statement said.

“We thank the community for their patience and understanding. Our priority is always to protect the health and safety of the community.”



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Victoria’s new mask rules for inside and outside from midnight November 22


Victoria’s rules around masks are being adjusted as the state begins rolling back restrictions that have helped it register no new cases of coronavirus for 23 straight days.

Premier Dan Andrews announced at a press conference on Sunday morning that the rules for when Victorians are required to wear masks are among those being changed from midnight on Sunday night.

“We are making a fundamental change,” Mr Andrews said.

“Masks will be required inside in all settings, they will not be required when you are outside.”

Mr Andrews said Victorians still needed to carry their masks with them in case they find themselves in a situation where they can’t socially distance even while outside.

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“If you go to Bunnings and you are inside the store, you are wearing a mask. If you are in the car park, you do not have to wear your mask. But if you are queuing up for a sausage, and you are with other people, and you are simply not keeping a distance, you are part of a crowd, you need to put the mask on,” Mr Andrews said.

“Carry the mask, because you never know, even outside, when you might need to wear it.”

Mr Andrews said masks “have played a very important part in these low numbers”.

“We just have to see this through and part of playing your part is wearing a mask,” Mr Andrews said.



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Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton spotted without mask


A picture of Victoria’s chief health officer sitting at a picnic without wearing a face mask has sparked heated debate online.

Professor Brett Sutton was snapped having a picnic in Bright without wearing a face mask – something he has been advising people to wear throughout the pandemic.

However the Department of Health and Human Services website advises that “you can take your face mask off when eating or drinking”.

Some believed the image was photoshopped and Professor Sutton is yet to respond to the controversy. But others have accused the top health official of hypocrisy for breaking his own rules.

“What were his health directives? You must wear a mask and you must social distance? Do as I say, not as I do,” one person wrote.

Another said, “Why did Brett Sutton have his photo taken without a mask in the weekend in Bright? Outside, not drinking eating or exercising. All bets are now off buddy”.

One woman wrote, “He is actually supposed to be wearing a mask like the rest of us !!! If out and about on the beach anywhere !!! Unless he has an exemption he has broken his own rules !!! BRETT SUTTON has made it look confusing now !!! Just doesn‘t look good !!!”

RELATED: Victoria facing years of mandatory masks and restrictions

Others leapt to his defence, saying it shouldn’t be necessary given zero cases in Victoria lately and the fact he was at a picnic.

“I saw a photo online Brett Sutton wasn’t wearing a mask,” one person said on Twitter.

“Mask should be optional now! If we have #Zero cases in the next few days masks should not be mandatory. We will have more health issues! And we have had 17K in testing.”

“People always have to look for something to hate on. You can’t eat or drink with a mask on,” another person wrote.

Earlier this month leading epidemiologists challenged Daniel Andrews’ firm stance on face masks, expressing surprise at the Premier’s failure to relax rules on face coverings as he announced a range of other freedoms for Victorians.

“At this stage I am not announcing any changes to masks,” he said.

“I don’t think it’s too much to ask and there are plenty of countries around the world that wish they had worn masks months ago.”

Professor Sutton also fell victim to his own rules recently, not being allowed to enter a pub.

The brewery cheekily posted the news late on Saturday night.

“Sorry you couldn’t get on the beers, Mr Sutton. Proving that literally all of Melbourne is in Bright this weekend, we had to turn away Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, twice today!

“Pictured here with our long-time bar staffer Wayne, Mr Sutton was a great sport when our staff explained that under his own COVID-restrictions, we unfortunately did not have the space to seat him.”



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Premier to quiz Victoria Police about mask enforcement after illegal beach party


Later in the evening, a large police contingent patrolled St Kilda beach where scores of maskless young people lingered late into the night as the mercury remained around 30 degrees.

While arguments about the need to wear masks continue at a government level, police patrols have become increasingly visible around St Kilda beach as Melbourne’s weather warms up.

Crowds of young people at St Kilda beach on Sunday night.

Crowds of young people at St Kilda beach on Sunday night.Credit:Nine News Melbourne

“I don’t think anyone should go out and expect that they can just flout the rules, do the wrong thing, be selfish and won’t pay a significant price,” Mr Andrews told reporters on Monday.

When asked why police were not issuing fines to people not wearing face masks at the beach, the Premier said he would follow up with the force.

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“I’d need to speak to police about the circumstances of that but it’s not my practice to interfere in the work that Victoria Police do. They’ll make judgments, they’re often far better briefed on these matters and the circumstances and the dynamics than any of us are.

“I’m not in the habit of second-guessing them.”

St Kilda was the scene of an illegal gathering on Saturday night, where people danced in Acland Street. Again, most revellers were not wearing face masks when police arrived to break up the party.

Large gatherings at Melbourne beaches have drawn the ire of ministers and health authorities in the wake of the city’s tough stage four lockdown when people were barred from going outside after 8pm, or travelling more than five kilometres from their homes.

Associate Professor Euan Tovey, a respiratory virus researcher at the University of Sydney, has previously told The Age that there was little support for fears about transmission at the beach.

Mr Andrews has so far remained steadfast on mandatory face masks rules, which require Victorians to wear masks outside their homes at all times, even while at a park or the beach.

But after the state recorded its 17th day without a new COVID case on Monday, the Premier said some changes to mask rules would be announced this Sunday.

“Masks won’t be here forever, they certainly won’t be here forever outdoors. Especially if you can reasonably expect to be a distance away from people,” he said.

Meanwhile, police are still searching for a young woman who punched a police officer in the head during a fight of up to 20 people on the St Kilda foreshore last week.

Victoria Police are seeking this woman's identity after a police officer was assaulted at St Kilda on Sunday night.

Victoria Police are seeking this woman’s identity after a police officer was assaulted at St Kilda on Sunday night.Credit:Victoria Police

Police were patrolling the beach on Wednesday night when a fight broke out between 15-20 people just before midnight.

Capsicum spray was used to break up the brawl when a group of young women and teenagers “became abusive and refused to move on”.

One young woman allegedly punched a male police officer in the head during the scuffle. She was capsicum sprayed and ran away, while the officer was treated for minor facial injuries.

Police have released an image from bodycam footage of a young woman they wish to speak to.

Anyone who has information is urged to contact Crime Stoppers on 1800 333 000 or submit a confidential crime report at www.crimestoppersvic.com.au.

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Experts renew calls for mask rules to ease immediately


That move should not affect the decision on other restrictions as masks should remain compulsory in high-risk settings, he said.

“None of us are saying masks are useless, they’ve proven to be very effective and will continue to be in high-risk environments – the MCG, supermarkets, indoor environments,” he said.

“But it seems a really excessive and risk-averse approach when evidence from other jurisdictions in Australia shows they have not required that extreme measure to control the virus or even get close to elimination.”

Professor Grills, who works part-time in a Melbourne emergency department where he has witnessed mental health presentations boom recently, said the government should consider taking its next step in restrictions before next Sunday.

“One week does make a difference. I see limitations on people’s lives that lead to poorer mental health, disharmony in individuals and families,” Professor Grills said. “There’s a gradual step we could go to safely this week.”

Victoria had just three active cases on Saturday and the latest “double doughnut day” came after 14,614 tests were processed the previous day.

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Professor Cheng added that Victoria was watching developments in New South Wales and New Zealand, which began a travel bubble with Victoria this week, when considering its mask rules.

Melbourne University epidemiologist James McCaw said he agreed that masks would remain crucial indoors for months to come.

But with the NSW-Victoria border opening on November 23, Professor McCaw said the possibility of cases being imported from north of the border was not sufficient to validate extending compulsory masks.

“I broadly agree with Professor Cheng that if we ease restrictions in one place we may have to maintain them in another. But I don’t think the blanket ‘always wear your mask’ should remain,” he said.

“I think Victorians have shown they can handle nuance. We can be at a level where you don’t always have to wear it, but you do have to carry it to put on in a dense environment. Let’s back people to behave in a sensible way.”

The full detail of changes will be announced next Sunday but Mr Andrews has previously said 10 people will be allowed to visit a home at a time and public gatherings will grow to 50 people outdoors.

Weddings and funerals would be allowed with 100 people or 10 in a private residence under the plan, and organised contact sports would resume for all ages with limitations on spectators.

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No changes to face mask rules in Victoria


Daniel Andrews announced a slew of welcome changes earlier this afternoon – including news that Melbourne’s lockdown will finally come to an end at midnight tomorrow.

A number of restrictions will be rolled back by Wednesday morning – with more to come on Sunday, November 8.

“Fundamentally, this belongs to every single Victorian, every single Victorian who has followed the rules, stayed the course, worked with me and my team, to bring this second wave to an end,” Mr Andrews told reporters.

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But there’s one rule that the Victorian Premier said would be sticking with his state for the long haul.

“We are not indicating any easing of masks today,” Mr Andrews told reporters.

“Masks are incredibly important. Difficult, you know, not particularly pleasant, but for a very low cost we get potentially a very, very high benefit.

“That’s why we’re going to persist with those for a while. We’re not quite sure how long.

“It may be that the settings change, potentially, but masks are going to be, particularly when you’re going to be proximate with other people, a feature. It is a very low cost for a very big gain.”

The other change not yet outlined in any of the Victorian Government’s reopening plans is when people can head back to the office – though they’ll likely hear more soon.

The Premier said residents shouldn’t expect an announcement regarding that until November 8, encouraging them to keep working from home if they can.

“We’ll get people back into offices as quickly as we can and as safely as we can,” he said.

“It won’t be everyone going in at once, de facto crowds, 20, 30, 40 people all jammed in close for hours on end. We have to be cautious about that.”

On Monday, Victoria recorded no new COVID-19 cases or deaths for the first time since June.



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