MELBOURNE, Australia — Victorian train and tram passengers refusing to wear a mask during their morning commute to work or school may be slapped with an AU$200 ($154) fine.
Since Melbourne emerged from its second Covid-19 lockdown in November, mask compliance on metropolitan trains and trams has fallen from 88 percent to just over 50 percent.
The slide in the number of people following health directions has prompted the Victorian government to initiate a mask blitz from May 24.
Public Transport Minister Ben Carroll claims passengers who decline authorities’ offer of a mask will be fined as part of the two-week operation.
“We’ll be handing out masks at 70 metropolitan train stations, some 50 V/Line stations, and tram stops,” he said on May 23.
“If you are approached by the protective service officer or police offering a mask, please take it. If you withdraw (from) taking the mask, you will be fined.”
To increase awareness and spread the word, Carroll has tweeted about the same. “We need every single Victorian to play their part in protecting the precious gains we’ve made against this virus — to keep our state safe and open. Under the Chief Health Officer directions, face masks remain mandatory on public transport,” read his tweet on May 23.
He tweeted again on May 24, encouraging the masses to register. “We all have a role to play in keeping our state safe and open. If you are using the public transport network, you MUST wear a mask. We encourage everyone to register their mykis to assist contact tracing efforts and fight the spread of the virus,” read the tweet.
Carroll denied the timing of the blitz was linked to a recent scare in which a Covid-infected man from Wollert in Melbourne’s north shared packed trains with other passengers before and after an Australian Football League (AFL) match on May 21.
“(With) the return of football, more people are going to the footy and sometimes innocently are forgetting to put the mask back on,” he said.
“So it’s a really timely campaign with our partners in Victoria Police and protective service officers to get that message through.”
Face masks have been mandatory on public transport in Victoria since mid-2020, although the AU$200 ($154) on-the-spot fine has only been enforced in low numbers in recent times.
Carroll claims the mask mandate was here to stay for the “foreseeable future” despite vaccination rates rising and Victoria on Sunday enjoying its 86th day without a locally acquired case.
Meanwhile, the Department of Health on May 23 confirmed 10 of the 13 close contacts linked to an Epping North Woolworths visited by the Wollert man had returned negative tests.
(Edited by Vaibhav Vishwanath Pawar and Pallavi Mehra)
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