The Australian military was called in yesterday to help to tackle a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne — a surge in infections that has rattled the nation’s second-most populous city.
Victoria state has recorded double-digit increases in new daily cases for more than a week — mostly in the state capital Melbourne — representing a sizeable spike in cases in a nation that has otherwise successfully curbed the pandemic.
Australian Minister for Health Greg Hunt said that the federal government had offered the army’s support to respond to the outbreak, while four other states had offered help with contact tracing.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had accepted the offers of assistance from the states and asked for logistical support from the army, officials said.
“This support will mean we can get even more tests done and results back quickly — and a stronger effort to remind Victorians if you are sick, stay home and get tested,” a state government spokesperson said.
It comes as Australia recorded its first COVID-19 death in a month, a man in his 80s dying in Victoria, where community concern about the coronavirus spread is ramping up.
Officials reported long lines at Melbourne’s testing centers, where some patients on Tuesday were turned away from overwhelmed facilities — prompting the creation of pop-up centers in several “hotspots.”
Major supermarkets in the state yesterday also reimposed buying limits on toilet paper and other essentials after an increase in demand sparked fears of a return to panic-buying.
Hunt said that the situation had reached a “critical juncture” and health authorities were considering local lockdowns in the worst-affected areas.
“Somebody has either not known, or not done, the right thing, so we need to be honest about that,” Hunt said.
Australia has recorded 7,521 COVID-19 cases and 103 deaths in a population of 25 million.
Several regions are believed to be effectively coronavirus-free, with fewer than 200 known active cases across the nation.
About three-quarters of those are in Victoria state, which had curbed the coronavirus through early restrictions on travel and gatherings. Those measures were gradually being rolled back until this week.
The new clusters have emerged at Melbourne’s Stamford Plaza Hotel, which is being used to quarantine citizens returning from overseas, an H&M clothing store in the north of the city, and within extended families in a couple of suburbs.
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