Prominent Deakin University epidemiologist Professor Catherine Bennett has strongly advised south-west residents to wear masks indoors as Victoria leads the national COVID death rate.
Professor Bennett said while many may be sick of wearing masks, they were a simple measure that most people could adopt with little inconvenience.
"People should still be wearing masks indoors, including in the supermarket, especially in winter. It's such a simple step to lower your risk," she said.
"With mask-wearing it's not just about personal risk. You might have a vulnerable person who has had their boosters and wants to get the train down to Warrnambool, but even though it's mandatory most of the people in the carriage aren't wearing masks, and you're essentially denying that person the right to use the train."
Professor Bennett said many people had the wrong idea about what it meant to "live with the virus". "This is something that's here and we have to learn to live with, which doesn't mean 'oh forget about it', but learn to actively manage it," she said.
Active management meant taking simple steps, like masks and sensible physical distancing, to reduce risk of infection and spread.
"At the moment, when you have a lot of infection in a community you hear people saying 'what's the point of protecting myself because I'm just delaying the inevitable?' But the big difference now is you can have reinfection," Professor Bennett said.
"You're not delaying your infection by being careful, you are reducing the number of infections you have. Having one mild infection doesn't mean the next one will be mild."
Professor Bennett warned new data suggested the latest BA.5 Omicron variant went "further down into your lungs", raising the risk of serious illness, so people should still be doing everything they can to avoid infection.
"If I look at Warrnmabool there were 24 cases overnight and 96 active cases, so the virus is out there. In Victoria we have the highest death rate for COVID in the country," she said.
"In Australia it's 1.76 people dying per million each day. In Victoria it's 2.56 per million and last week it was three, so we stand out."
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