Premier Daniel Andrews
© Jason South
Premier Daniel Andrews says his mandatory mask order is not going anywhere.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews' captain's call to maintain a strict mandatory mask order over summer is ridiculous and could badly backfire, health experts warn after the Premier revealed his decision goes further than the health advice.

Mr Andrews announced an indefinite crackdown for mandatory masks on Sunday, including banning face shields, scarfs and bandannas and requiring a "fitted mask that covers nose and mouth" which he expects to remain over the summer.

But health experts said the mandatory order should be directed at higher risk shopping, public transport and workplace settings.

The mask controversy comes as Minister for Jobs Martin Pakula is under pressure from the conclusion of the hotel quarantine inquiry, following the resignation of Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, who on Monday suggested the Andrews government is going for elimination.

Mr Pakula should have had greater oversight of the hotel program, which is responsible for 768 deaths and 18,000 infections but was set up for a dual purpose of "not just public safety, but also some form of economic support for the Victorian economy", the inquiry heard.

The Andrews government is also under growing pressure, with business owners and industry groups raising concerns on the randomness of the revised reopening plan announced on Sunday.

Dogs can be groomed but human haircuts are out; people can travel more than 5 kilometres to a cemetery but only for an anniversary or a birthday; people are now allowed to go hiking and fishing but only within 5 kilometres of their house and for exercise; residents can now swim at a public pool but not play golf or tennis.

Retail, restaurants, gyms and the hairdressing and beauty industry are still unclear when they can reopen and years 7 to 10 students are unsure when they can return to school, despite just five cases all linked to known outbreaks on Monday.

The Premier revealed on Monday his mask edict, which is expected to remain in place over summer, goes further than the health advice. It comes after it was revealed the now abandoned curfew was also a captain's call and former judges and QCs expressed alarm that proposed new powers are "unprecedented, excessive and open to abuse".

Mr Andrews also announced on Sunday that fines for breaching rules about gatherings would increase to almost $5000.

"I have gone a bit further [than the health advice]," Mr Andrews said. "I've been clear in my judgment, significant benefit - very low cost. Seriously, what's the issue? Why is it such a massive issue?"

Asked why he would require Victorians to wear masks when there is no health purpose, Mr Andrews dismissed the question. "That's an esoteric debate, isn't it? Maybe there will be a time when we have the luxury of having those sorts of debates."

But health experts slammed the claims on Monday and warned it could backfire, amid a public backlash and calls for a more targeted approach in high-risk settings.

"I think this is a big issue, people will get fatigue," infectious diseases physician Peter Collignon said. "If you have a lot of community transmission, masks make sense, but it is about five or six on the hierarchy of things which have benefits."

He said that too many people wanted an easy, single solution but warned "masks would not have stopped Victoria's outbreak".

"We know how this virus transmits. If you make people wear masks when they are in the middle of nowhere or in a car and now have to be fitted masks, you are going to have a real problem with enforcement," he said.

"We may have to do this over the next two or three years. If you are in the middle of the park with your family the chance of you getting it or transmitting it is minuscule."

Deakin University epidemiology chair Catherine Bennett put the odds of contracting the virus in Melbourne at longer than one million to one, compared to around a one in 12,000 chance of being struck by lightning.

"They need to trust people to make sensible decisions and enforce mandatory masks where they need to in risky situations," she said, suggesting a more targeted approach should be adopted from October 19, particularly given regional Victoria has just nine active case.

"There are zero cases of mystery transmission today. Even allowing for five, with five million people that's one in a million."

Plucked, waxed, lasered

Business owners continued to vent their frustrations over the new reopening plan on Monday.

"Fitness clubs are not high risk," said Tim Schleiger from VIC Active - which represents 100 fitness clubs, 400 staff and 300,000 members.

"There is now clear and irrefutable evidence of that from all over the world, but the government is ignoring facts and keeping clubs closed on a guess."

Small Business Australia executive director Bill Lang asked: "Why is it that we can now meet one other household, up to a maximum of five people in a park for two hours, yet cannot share a meal or a coffee with the same five people served outside at a cafe or restaurant for a two-hour sitting?"

Victorian head of Ai Group Tim Piper is also calling for Mr Andrews to allow a phased reopening of the beauty industry to provide a much-needed morale boost.

"People are wanting to be plucked, waxed, lasered, threaded and coiffured. It's a rite of passage for some and would make them feel so much better about themselves," he said.

Joshua Mihan, owner of The Bearded Man on Chapel Street in Prahran, said the biggest thing was the uncertainty with a month of bookings ready to go and no date yet on when they could reopen.

"The financial burden is really showing now," he said. "There's a lot of confusion. We went from being an essential business in the first lockdown to now being the last on the list to reopen."
About the authors

Patrick Durkin is Melbourne bureau chief and BOSS deputy editor. He writes on news, business and leadership. Connect with Patrick on Twitter. Email Patrick at pdurkin@afr.com
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Natasha Boddy is Work & Careers reporter with The Australian Financial Review. She was previously a homepage editor and online producer. Connect with Natasha on Twitter. Email Natasha at natasha.boddy@afr.com