Australia’s Victoria state tightened restrictions and declared a state of disaster after its outbreak showed no signs of abating three weeks after capital Melbourne was put under lockdown.
State Premier Daniel Andrews announced 671 new cases in the past 24 hours with seven deaths. More than 380 people were in hospital, with 38 in intensive care.
Andrews said he would declare a state of disaster from 6 p.m. tonight, which would give police added powers. Metropolitan Melbourne would be under a curfew limiting movement between 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. The new restrictions will be in force for six weeks.
Andrews said it was “not acceptable” to face the state each day and report the numbers of residents who had died. “We need to come down on this hard.” He said the number of mystery cases that couldn’t be traced to a known outbreak had risen to an “unacceptably high” level that could not be continued.
Regional Victoria will be under restrictions that Melbourne is currently under from Wednesday night, Andrews said. Schools across the state will move to remote learning from Wednesday, while childcare centres in Melbourne will close to all but essential workers from Thursday.
Half-way through a six-week lockdown, the infection curve in Victoria hasn’t flattened. Yet the tighter restrictions threaten to exacerbate Australia’s first recession in almost 30 years. Victoria contributes about one-quarter of gross domestic product, but is now isolated from the rest of the country as other states shutter their borders against a worrying spike in community transmission.
Separately, New South Wales – the nation’s most populous – recorded another 12 cases Sunday with Premier Gladys Berejiklian “strongly encouraging” residents to wear masks in certain situations, such as supermarkets and places of worship.
“I want to stress it’s not compulsory, but it is a strong recommendation,” Berejiklian told reporters Sunday. “I can’t stress enough how critical the next few weeks are,” adding she was taking extra measures due to the state’s geographical proximity to Victoria.
Australia’s first lockdown that lasted roughly from March to May was one of the most successful in the world, bringing down cases to just a handful a day nationwide. But security failures at quarantine hotels for returning travellers and poor communication of critical information to migrant communities allowed the virus to roar back in Victoria, its second-most-populous state.
With those unable to work from home not willing to sacrifice wages, and young people especially losing patience with physical isolation, many no longer seem willing to fully follow the rules as the economic and social costs mount.
(This story has been published from a wire agency feed without modifications to the text. Only the headline has been changed.)