IT will be mandatory to wear face masks when away from home, with the rule to be enforced across Victoria from 11.59pm on Sunday, August 2.
In line with advice from the Chief Health Officer, Premier Daniel Andrews made the announcement late on Thursday morning that people in all regional areas of Victoria will be required to wear face coverings, amid concerns COVID-19 is spreading into country areas.
The change of direction came as 723 people tested positive to COVID-19 in the 24 hours to Thursday.
While most of those who tested positive were in metropolitan areas, Mr Andrews said the virus "does not discriminate".
"It rips through workplaces, sweeps through aged care settings, cuts through communities - and tragically, takes lives with it as it goes," he said.
"Most of today's cases are in metro areas. But we have seen a significant jump in regional communities. It's vital we stop this virus further seeping into regional Victoria.
"Last week, and based on the latest in scientific study, we announced that face coverings would be mandatory in metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire.
"Today, and in line with the advice of the Chief Health Officer, I can announce that same requirement will apply across regional Victoria."
Mr Andrews said he undetsood it was a "big step" for some, "but by covering your face, you're protecting your community, and protecting those extra freedoms your community enjoys".
"By covering your face, you're keeping local businesses open, and keeping local people in work," he said.
Other changes to be made from Thursday include the restriction of visitors to the home of people living in the local government areas of Colac-Otway, Greater Geelong, Surf Coast, Moorabool, Golden Plains, and the Borough of Queenscliffe. From 11.59pm on Sunday, people in those area will no longer be able to visit people or have visitors at home due to the jump in cases spread through such contacts.
A PEAK medical body is urging regional Victorians to 'mask up' to help curb COVID-19 numbers.
Royal Australian College of General Practitioners state chairman Dr Cameron Loy said people living regionally should be cautious and wear masks or face coverings in public if it was difficult to keep a physical distance.
"Now is the time for people in regional Victoria to be cautious and act with common sense," Dr Loy said.
"We have a long way to go to beat COVID-19, and we are seeing community transmission of COVID-19 in some regional areas.
"Wearing a face covering will help stop transmission, which is what everyone wants.
"The sooner people 'mask up' in Victoria, especially in areas of community transmission, the sooner we will get on top of this virus."
Dr Loy said it was especially important to protect smaller regional communities from COVID-19 as they tended to have fewer medical resources to cope with the virus.
"There may be just one GP and no local hospital," he pointed out.
Dr Loy conceded some people may not be able to wear face masks or coverings.
"While most people should be able to wear a face covering, there are some who will have a legitimate reason not to," Dr Loy said.
"It goes without saying that these people must not be discriminated against or ostracised."
Dr Loy said GPs could not provide "exemptions" and could only provide their assessment of patients' medical conditions, which may mean they could not wear face coverings.
"GPs should act wisely in providing medical certificates," he said.
"It is for the greater public health good that all those who can wear a face covering, do.
"In these difficult times when we are seeing community transmission in many places, we all need to do our bit.
"If you live in regional Victoria you should consider wearing a mask when you go outside and you can't keep a physical distance - this is about protecting yourself, your loved ones and everyone else in our community.
"And remember a face mask or covering is not a suit of armour against COVID-19.
"People still need to follow the other advice to stay safe, including maintaining a physical distance of 1.5m from others, regular hand washing, and cough and sneezing into your elbow."