July 30, 2020 / 11:58 PM / 14 days ago

Australian state flags strict new steps to control surging COVID-19 cases

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia’s Victoria state recorded its second-highest day of new COVID-19 infections on Friday as its premier rebuked residents for evading lockdown and flagged the prospect of more rigorous steps to contain the disease.

Medical personnel administer tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at a pop-up testing centre, as the state of New South Wales grapples with an outbreak of new cases, in Sydney, Australia, July 30, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Victoria, whose capital Melbourne is under a reimposed six-week stay-home order, reported 627 new infections, down from a record 723 the previous day. The state recorded eight more deaths linked to the novel coronavirus, including two men in their fifties, also from a record 14 the day before.

The state, which for months prided itself on a tough approach to social distancing measures, now accounts for more than half Australia’s 198 deaths from the virus and about 60% of the country’s 16,900 cases. Most of Victoria’s new 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 televised news 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.”

Defence 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 ($1,190) fine, Andrews said.

Victoria is due to end lockdown on Aug. 19 and is analysing how the virus is being transmitted in the community, which will guide any new restrictions, he added.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the spike in coronavirus cases in Melbourne remained a challenge but he was confident a flare-up in larger Sydney 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.”

New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital, had contained the virus mainly because of better contact tracing than in neighbouring Victoria, Morrison said. NSW recorded just 21 new cases.

A ban on people travelling from Sydney to northern Queensland state was meanwhile set to begin at 1am Saturday local time, and images of traffic lines at the NSW-Queensland border began circulating on social media late on Friday. Sydney is more than 800 kilometres, or 500 miles, from the state border but home to two-thirds of NSW’s 7.5 million residents.

“There will be delays at the border so think about your travel plans and think about where you need to go and think about the timing of those journeys,” Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said earlier.

Reporting by Byron Kaye, Melanie Burton and Sonali Paul; editing by Tom Brown, Lincoln Feast & Shri Navaratnam

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