SYDNEY: Australia’s second most populous state, Victoria, reported the lowest increase in new COVID-19 cases in more than a week on Thursday (June 3), a day after officials said. A snap lockdown extended in state capital Melbourne for the second week.
The extended lockdown will last until June 10 as health officials scramble to contain the latest outbreak of the virus first detected in India, which they say is highly contagious.
Victoria on Thursday reported three new locally acquired cases, down from six a day earlier, bringing the total number of infections in the latest outbreak to 63.
This is the fourth lockdown in Melbourne since the pandemic began.
Under mounting pressure and with an election likely within a year, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced plans to pay up to $500 a week (US$387) to people in lockdown.
Morrison said payments would be made to people over the age of 17 who cannot work from home and who have less than $10,000 in liquid assets.
Australia introduced a wage subsidy scheme early in the pandemic, but that plan ended in March and the government resisted calls for a temporary re-introduction of the measure.
Snap lockdowns, regional border restrictions and strict social distancing rules have helped Australia keep its COVID-19 figures relatively low, at 30,130 cases and 910 deaths.
But Morrison is being criticized for slowing vaccine rolls and refusing to help the state government build specific COVID-19 quarantine centres, instead relying on hotel quarantines where leaks have spread the virus.
Melbourne’s latest outbreak has been traced to a returned foreign traveller who left hotel quarantine in the state of South Australia after testing negative, but later tested positive in Melbourne.
Although Victoria’s daily cases have remained in the single digits for a week, officials fear that even minimal contact could help spread the virus type. The three cases came from record daily tests of more than 57,500 people, bringing the total number of infections in the outbreak to 63.
In Victoria’s latest lockdown, rules in areas outside Melbourne will be eased from Thursday night due to the absence of cases there, although home gatherings will remain banned and masks will be worn indoors.
Melbourne’s five million residents, however, will only be allowed to step out of their homes for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping, exercise or to receive a COVID-19 vaccination by the end of next week.
“We don’t do it because we want to, we don’t do it because it’s an option. We do it because we have to,” James Merlino, the acting premier of Victoria state, told reporters in Melbourne.
The state of New South Wales, which shares a border with Victoria, sent officials to track down close contacts after an infected traveler from Melbourne visited some popular tourist destinations in the state’s south about two weeks ago. The latter is on alert. About a dozen places have been listed as hotspots.
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