Following the detection of two COVID-19 cases in Aboriginal communities in Victoria, the Victorian Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation (VACCHO) is urging people in regional areas to wear masks.
VACCHO CEO Jill Gallagher told NITV News that all Aboriginal people across the state should consider wearing a mask in public, not just in Melbourne and Mitchell Shire where it is mandated, as coronavirus positive cases in Aboriginal communities within the state rose to 37.
"Wearing a mask is something that's not natural, we're not used to it, but it does help," she said.
"It helps with the battle that we've got here in Victoria to fight COVID-19.“
Ms Gallagher also urged people to observe social distancing protocols and personal hygiene measures such as remaining vigilant about washing hands.
"We cannot afford to be complacent in this space and we cannot afford to think 'it won't happen to me' because already we've had 37 cases,” she said.
Of the 37 cases in the state, 18 people have fully recovered and 19 cases are still active. Just over half of cases are aged between 15-44, and 32 per cent (12 cases) are aged 45-64.
Ms Gallagher said while the majority of these cases have been in Melbourne, any prevalence of the virus in regional areas could be devastating for Indigenous communities right across Victoria.
"They're alarming numbers and we have got a lot at stake," she said.
"We've got too much to lose to not be on top of this."
Ms Gallagher said she was optimistic that the Aboriginal communities in Victoria will do the right thing and continue to support each other through the coronavirus crisis.
"Our people tend to come together with what we've got, so that gives me hope," she said.
"It gives me hope when I see Elders speaking out to say 'hey you mob, keep your distance’. That gives me hope."
More than 100 fined
Victoria Police have issued more than 100 fines in the past 24 hours to people ignoring COVID-19 restrictions.
Police Minister Lisa Neville said the number of penalties handed to Victorians on Thursday showed some people ”don't care”.
"There are people deciding they still want to party, people who have decided they want to continue to go to brothels," she said.
"They decided the gym can continue to operate and of course people who have decided to go into unrestricted areas."
The minister said police had also issued a ”handful of fines” on Thursday to people refusing to wear masks.
"The discretion for masks will continue over the next seven days but be in no doubt ... discretion is limited," she said.
"Whether you are trying to get through a roadblock, trying to get away with not wearing a mask, whether you're trying to have a party, Victoria Police will be there."