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New Covid-19 curbs, mandatory mask wearing in New South Wales

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Virus clusters could rise as Victoria state reports cases with unknown source

SYDNEY: Australia's most populous state of New South Wales yesterday reported eight new Covid-19 cases as new social distancing restrictions and mandatory mask wearing kicked in, while neighbouring Victoria had three new cases.

The New South Wales outbreak, which began last month at Sydney's Northern Beaches, now totals 148. There are also smaller clusters in Sydney's west and south areas, which the authorities fear could rise in coming days.

The state will enforce mask wearing from midnight at indoor venues such as gaming rooms, hair salons, nail salons and retail shops.

"I would encourage the community across Greater Sydney to wear masks in compliance with the law, but do it for yourself, do it for your family, do it for your community, that's the main reason," said state Health Minister Brad Hazzard.

Victoria's three cases yesterday were all linked to the same Melbourne restaurant, though the source of the infection is still under investigation.

Health authorities have identified 220 close contacts and more than 50 exposure sites linked to the positive cases.

"What's important is that they are in quarantine when they are diagnosed so that the risk of onward transmission is reduced," Victoria's deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng said.

Victoria, which now has more than 30 active cases, has made masks mandatory across the state while limiting gatherings and shutting its border to New South Wales.

Professor Cheng said there are now 21 cases linked to the cafe and family gatherings of people linked to the Smile Buffalo Thai cafe in the bayside suburb of Black Rock in Melbourne.

He reiterated that the source is still unknown. "We are looking at several lines of investigation," he said.

Australia has reported more than 28,450 cases and 909 deaths so far.

Meanwhile in Japan, Tokyo yesterday reported 816cases, a day after governors from the capital and neighbouring prefectures called on the government to announce a state of emergency to combat a recent surge.

Prime Minister Yoshihide Suga has resisted calls for a second national state of emergency; the government first introduced that measure in April during an earlier wave of the pandemic. Mr Suga is scheduled to speak publicly today.

Japan's economy minister told reporters the government needed to consult with health experts before deciding on a new declaration.

As an interim measure, restaurants and karaoke parlours in Tokyo are being asked to close at 8pm, while businesses that serve alcohol should close at 7pm, he said.

The previous state of emergency relied on voluntary business closings and travel restrictions rather than the sort of rigid lockdown measures seen elsewhere in the world.

Tokyo raised its Covid-19 alert to its highest level on Dec 17. New infections in the capital hit a record 1,337 last Thursday.

Japan's health ministry said on Sunday there were 3,045 cases across the country.

Since the start of the pandemic, Japan has reported more than 240,000 cases and 3,548 deaths. - REUTERS