July 24, 2020 / 12:38 AM / 13 days ago

Australian state tightens restrictions as coronavirus clusters grow

MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Restrictions were reintroduced in Australia’s most populous state of New South Wales on Friday as authorities battle to control fresh coronavirus clusters that have emerged in Sydney over the last several days.

FILE PHOTO: Medical personnel administer tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Bondi Beach drive-through testing centre, as the state of New South Wales grapples with an outbreak of new cases, in Sydney, Australia, July 20, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

Group bookings at restaurants, cafes and clubs will be limited to 10 people and patrons inside a venue will be capped to 300 in rules that take effect amid a growing cluster stemming from a Thai restaurant in suburban Sydney.

Wedding and corporate events will be limited to 150 people with strict social distancing rules including a ban on singing, dancing and mingling, while only 100 can attend funerals and places of worship. Australia has so far escaped the high COVID-19 casualty numbers of other nations, with just over 13,000 infections and 133 deaths from the virus as of Thursday.

But a spike in community-transmitted cases in its two most populous states in recent weeks has alarmed authorities.

Victoria state on Thursday reported five deaths from COVID-19 in the previous 24 hours and the third-highest daily rise in cases.

A flare-up of infections in Melbourne, the state’s largest city, prompted the government to enforce a six-week partial lockdown and make face masks mandatory for its residents or risk a A$200 ($143) fine.

Australia’s National cabinet meets on Friday and is expected to discuss steps to combat the clusters as well as financial measures to shore up its economy.

Australia’s budget is set to plunge into its biggest deficit since World War Two this year as the coronavirus crisis knocks the country into its first recession in three decades and forces policymakers to roll out hundreds of billions of dollars in stimulus.

Meanwhile, a law firm on Friday said it has filed a class action in an Australian court against Carnival Corp’s Ruby Princess cruise ship alleging mishandling of a coronavirus outbreak on board the ship. The cruise ship has also become part of a homicide investigation in Australia as one of the country’s deadliest virus infection sources.

“It is not our intention to respond to the assertions of class action lawyers,” a Carnival Corp spokesman said in an emailed statement.

Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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