July 23, 2020 / 4:31 AM / 23 days ago

Australia reports highest coronavirus deaths in three months, infections climb

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia reported its highest daily number of coronavirus-related deaths in three months on Thursday as new infections continued to climb in its second most populous state.

A Protective Services Officer wearing a face mask talks to a member of public in Melbourne after it became the first city in Australia to enforce mask-wearing in public as part of efforts to curb a resurgence of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), July 23, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

Victoria state said it had confirmed another 403 infections, while five people had died from the virus in the last 24 hours.

The fatalities, including a man in his 50s, mark the country’s biggest one-day rise in COVID-19 deaths since late April.

“This demonstrates the growing toll this terrible virus is taking on our community,” Health Minister Jenny Mikakos told reporters in the state capital, Melbourne.

With authorities unable to bring new infections below triple digits, residents in Melbourne and most of the state are now required to wear masks outside of their homes.

Nationally, Australia has recorded about 13,000 coronavirus cases with a death toll of 128.

MOUNTAIN TO CLIMB

The rise in new infections came after Australia began relaxing strict containment measures imposed in mid-March.

While the social distancing rules - which limited mobility of residents and shuttered businesses - slowed the spread of COVID-19, Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said it has taken a heavy toll on the economy.

The government reported its biggest budget deficit since World War Two on Thursday after committing to fiscal stimulus of around A$289 billion, or 14.6% of gross domestic product (GDP).

The budget swung into a massive deficit of A$85.8 billion ($61.3 billion) in the year-ended June 2020 compared with an earlier forecast for a surplus, Frydenberg said.

The shortfall will climb further next year, hitting A$184.5 billion in 2020-21.

“Australia is experiencing a health and economic crisis like nothing we have seen in the last 100 years,” Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra.

“Our economy has taken a big hit and there are many challenges we confront. We can see the mountain ahead.”

SETBACKS TO RECOVERY

Analysts expect the economy will rebound in coming months as life returns to some sort of normal, though much depends on whether authorities can keep a lid on new virus outbreaks in Melbourne and Sydney, its two biggest cities, a Reuters poll found.

Victoria has for more than two weeks required nearly 5 million people to stay home unless leaving for permitted essential reasons.

Residents who do not wear facemasks are liable to fines of A$200.

State police said they will show some discretion over the coming week, though state Premier Daniel Andrews urged people to comply, citing the cases of four children hospitalised with COVID-19.

Slideshow (4 Images)

“We all need to work together, doing simple things, doing, large and small things, each of us to protect each other,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.

“It’s all about the small things, the small improvements in our internal processes, and in terms of compliance across the Victorian community that add up.”

Authorities in Australia’s most populous state, New South Wales are also on high alert for new cases despite the border with Victoria being closed.

Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Michael Perry and Kim Coghill

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