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Melbourne coronavirus: Scramble to buy face masks as item made mandatory

As the deadline for mandatory face masks looms, residents of Melbourne’s hotspots rush shops to buy the essential item.

Panicked residents in Victoria’s coronavirus hot spots have been rushing to buy face masks before the mandatory rule is enforced.

Premier Daniel Andrews’ announcement that from 11.59pm on Wednesday, those not wearing masks or facial coverings will receive a $200 fine.

As a result, shops in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire have seen an influx of customers this afternoon rushing to buy the soon-to-be essential item.

People are rushing to the shops to beat the Wednesday deadline. Photo: Twitter

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People are “climbing over each other”

On Twitter, people have described scenes of total chaos and wild queues as people “climb over each other” to buy either pre-made masks or the equipment needed to make their own.

“It is going NUTS here; car park full and queue of about 50 people waiting to get in!” one wrote, sharing a photo from a queue outside a Spotlight store.

“Lines up to 30 minutes at Spotlight in Springvale. Sewing machines almost gone. Everyone buying fabric to make their own masks after mandatory rules set for residents in Melbourne lockdown areas,” Herald Sun journalist Brooke Grebert-Craig wrote.

“Massive queue outside Chemist Warehouse … presumably getting masks just hours after mandatory masking in Victoria announced even though doesn’t kick in for another three days,” another tweeted.

“I was just in Chemist Warehouse and they are selling small boxes of disposable masks for $50. People climbing over each other getting as many as they can carry. Not good,” a Melbournian tweeted of his experience.

Sewing machines are selling out to those who plan to make their own masks. Photo: Twitter

Read about what stage 4 restrictions could look like  and NSW’s new tougher restrictions.

“Clarification needed! What will be fined for?”

Some expressed concern over the mad rush to snag a mask before the mandatory rule came in, pointing out the shopping expedition was in contrast to the government’s “stay home” message.

Another user on Facebook said they had to join the “panic buying queue” outside a Chemist Warehouse where they bought a box of 50 disposable masks for $44 – pointing out an eerie detail on the item.

“Look where they’re made?” the user wrote, showing a label on the side that read the masks were manufactured in Wuhan, China – where the first coronavirus outbreak occurred.

Another person on Twitter spotted the same detail on the Softmed brand face mask.

Advice dubbed “confusing”

However advice around the new rule is confusing.

Premier Andrews said earlier today it “can be a scarf, it can be a homemade mask”, which is in contradiction to the previous advice cloth masks needed a minimum of 2-3 layers to be most effective.

Epidemiologist Dr Abrar Ahmad Chughtai from the University of New South Wales said there were notable details to look for when purchasing or making a cloth face mask to ensure it works.

“Use two or three layers of fabric. Choose fabric with a high thread count – so a tighter weave, for instance, from a good quality sheet is generally better than a fabric (mask) with a looser weave that you can clearly see light through,” he wrote in a blog post Monday.

“Fabrics made with more than one type of thread, for instance cotton – silk, cotton – chiffon, or cotton – flannel, may be good choices because they provide better filtration and are more comfortable to wear.”

On Thursday, cloth masks were found to be the “best weapon” when fighting the spread of coronavirus by two separate studies in the US, after surgical masks had previously been thought to be more effective.

Long queues at fabric shops and chemists alike. Photo: Twitter

Federal government backs mask advice

The Federal Government has thrown its support behind the mask announcement.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said today Victoria is at the point where masks are now “necessary” in the state and added that federal officials “fully and completely support”.

“It is necessary, and we are sorry that it has reached this point for all those who were affected. But this is about saving lives and protecting lives.”

He said face masks would not be mandatory across the country and that “at this stage, the medical expert panel hasn’t identified a level such as that in other states and territories”.

Mr Andrews said an order of at least 2.5 million masks was on its way to Melbourne, with the “first significant batch” expected to arrive this week.

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