Melbourne virus spike challenging, admits Aussie PM

Police stand guard at a locked down public housing tower in Melbourne earlier this month. (AP pic)

MELBOURNE: Australia’s Victoria state recorded its second-highest day of new coronavirus infections on Friday, one day after logging record deaths, as the state’s leader flagged the prospect of more rigorous steps to contain the spread of the disease.

Victoria, whose capital Melbourne is under a reimposed six-week lockdown, reported 627 new infections on Friday, down from a record of 723 new infections on Thursday. Eight people died, including two men in their fifties, down from a record of 14 also recorded on Thursday.

The state now accounts for more than half of the country’s 198 deaths from the novel coronavirus and about 60% of the nation’s 16,900 cases. The majority of Victoria’s fresh cases are in Melbourne, Australia’s second biggest city.

“It is clear to all of us that these numbers are still far too high,” Premier Daniel Andrews told a media conference.

“It may well be the case … that we need to take further steps. The data will tell us, the experts will tell us, what and if any next steps need to be.”

Australian Defence Force and health officials are door-knocking every positive Covid-19 case in the state but have found one in four people not at home. Those people have been referred to police, and may face a A$1,652 fine.

“If you have got this virus, you’ve got to stay at home,” Andrews said.

Victoria, which is due to come out of lockdown on Aug 19, is embarking on detailed analysis of transmission trends which will guide any new restrictions.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison acknowledged the larger spike in cases in Melbourne remained a challenge, although added he was confident a coronavirus flare-up in Sydney, the country’s biggest city, was under control.

“The level of community outbreak and community transmission in Victoria is the great challenge down there,” Morrison said on 2GB radio.

“And there’s still a lot of work to do and we’re not on top of it yet.”

Morrison said New South Wales had contained the spread of the virus from outbreaks at pubs, restaurants and aged care homes around Sydney thanks mainly to much better contact tracing than in Victoria. New South Wales recorded 21 new cases overnight.

“The key difference is that in New South Wales … there are no cases that have an unknown source. None,” he said, noting that Victoria has had around 50 cases a day with no known source.

Morrison urged Muslims who will be celebrating the Eid al-Adha festival starting on Friday to stay away from big gatherings. Some of Victoria’s outbreaks since June have been linked to family gatherings after the holy fasting month of Ramadan.

“At times like this, it’s even more important that we don’t gather in those large groups, that as important as faith is, that we really do think of the health issues here,” he said.

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