Australia’s second-most populous state, Victoria, yesterday extended its state of emergency for four more weeks to July 19, as it battles a spike in COVID-19 infections with a pick-up in community transmission.
The move came a day after the state said it would reimpose restrictions capping visitors to households to five people and outdoor gatherings to 10, starting today. The limits had been relaxed on June 1 to allow up to 20 people in households and public gatherings.
Victoria yesterday reported 19 new infections, the fifth day of double-digit rises, including 10 cases believed to be a result of community transmission.
The state has now had 1,836 total confirmed cases, a quarter of the cases in Australia, since the COVID-19 pandemic erupted.
Yesterday’s tally in Victoria included Australian rules football player Conor McKenna, the first in the league to test positive.
The surge in Victoria has alarmed other states, which have had few, if any, new cases for several weeks.
Queensland and Western Australia, which shut their borders in March and April respectively, said they would weigh Victoria’s situation before reopening.
“But the last thing we want to do is lift the borders, have lots of people come here, for example for school holidays, spread coronavirus in our state and then force us to go backwards on restrictions,” Queensland Deputy Premier Steven Miles said.
Despite Victoria’s surge, health officials see no need to require face masks.
They would have limited value in a country where absolute numbers of transmission remain “very low,” Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said.
Avoiding hugging and kissing was “arguably far more important than, say, wearing masks,” he said.
He said that what was happening in Victoria should not stop other states from going ahead with their plans to ease their own restrictions, because the virus situation was different in each jurisdiction.
Victorian Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos said 210 of the state’s cases are believed to be tied to community transmission, blaming families who have held large gatherings attended by people with mild symptoms since restrictions were eased.
“We obviously have been concerned by the increasing numbers that we have seen in recent days. It is still a very serious situation,” Mikakos said at a televised media conference in Melbourne.
State police said they planned to step up enforcement, targeting suburbs where there have been breakouts and holiday spots during a state school vacation that starts next week.
Individuals caught breaching restrictions face fines of up to A$1,652 (US$1,129).
The Australian Industry Group, which represents a wide range of employers, said Victoria’s prolonging of restrictions, including extending working from home through next month, would make it harder for businesses to reopen.
Cafes, restaurants and pubs were set to expand their number of patrons from 20 to 50 today, but this is now on hold. Gyms, movie theaters, indoor sports centers and concert venues would be allowed to reopen for the first time, but with a 20-person limit.
Additional reporting by the Guardian
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