Asia Today: New mask requirement in Australian city may last

MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Wearing masks became compulsory in Australia’s second-largest city Melbourne on Thursday as hot spot Victoria state posted 403 new COVID-19 cases and five deaths.

The daily infection tally was down from a record 484 cases posted on Wednesday.

Much of the spread is blamed on sick workers who do not take time off from their jobs while they wait for coronavirus test results. The wait for those results has usually been two days.

The state government announced Thursday that workers who do not have sick leave will be eligible for a one-time support payment of 300 Australian dollars ($213) while they await test results.

A large majority of Melbourne residents appeared to be complying with the new mask requirement.

Police will “exercise discretion” on imposing a AU$200 ($143) fine for failing to wear a mask for a week while people in Melbourne adjust to the rule, the government said in a statement.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews on Thursday gave no indication of how long mask-wearing might be compulsory.

“As challenging — well, I think it’s pretty simple, frankly — but as challenging as some may find wearing masks, we’ll see the benefits of that in the days and probably the weeks to come,” Andrews said.

“It’s why it may not just be a feature of the second wave, it may be a feature for many, many months to come,” he added.

A male commuter who wore a mask told Australian Broadcasting Corp. at Melbourne’s busy Southern Cross train station: “I don’t really enjoy wearing it.”

“But if it means that we’re saving lives in the community, then we just got to suck it up and do it,” he said.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— China continues to see new cases of coronavirus in the northwestern region of Xinjiang, with 18 reported on Thursday. The outbreak has been focused on the regional capital, Urumqi, where city leaders have restricted travel, locked down some communities and ordered widespread testing. Another three cases brought from outside China were reported by the National Health Commission. China has reported 83,729 cases of COVID-19, with 4,634 deaths.

— South Korea reported 59 new COVID-19 cases as local transmissions and imported infections both rise. Health authorities have struggled to trace transmissions and predict infection routes as people increasingly venture out in public. South Korea has almost 14,000 cases, including 297 deaths.

California will spend another $315 million on protective masks through a contract with a Chinese manufacturer. Gov. Gavin Newsom announced the deal with BYD as he touted California’s efforts to procure masks for health care and other essential workers. Newsom signed a $1 billion contract with BYD in April and the first masks began arriving last month after delays. Newsom said California will try to get more masks at lower prices through competitive bidding. But he acknowledged the masks aren’t always getting to workers who need them.

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