MELBOURNE: Australia’s military announced on Thursday (Jun 25) that it would send 1,000 troops to Melbourne in an effort to help contain the country’s only significant coronavirus outbreak over fears of a second wave.
Victoria state has seen a spike in COVID-19 cases, recording almost 150 new infections over the past week as new clusters have emerged in Melbourne.
While the numbers remain small compared to global tallies, the outbreak has rattled Australia, which has been rolling back restrictions after successfully curbing the virus spread.
Defence Minister Linda Reynolds said Thursday that 1,000 troops would be rapidly deployed to Victoria “in the coming days”.
Up to 850 Australian Defence Force personnel will help monitor returned international travellers being held in hotel quarantine while about 200 others will provide logistical and medical support to COVID-19 testing facilities, she added.
Military personnel are already manning the borders of states that are closed to outside visitors as well as providing planning support to health and emergency management services, including in Victoria.
However, the deployment of such a large military contingent to a major Australian city is unprecedented in the coronavirus crisis.
It comes as community concern about the virus spread ramps up in Melbourne, with pop-up testing centres set up in virus “hot spots” in response to long queues and supermarkets reimposing buying limits amid fears of a return of panic-buying.
Virus clusters have emerged in large family groups spread across the country’s second city, at a hotel used for quarantining returned travellers and at a clothing store.
Desperate to contain the outbreak, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said authorities are beginning a testing blitz across the worst effected suburbs.
“We have ambulances and other vans that will literally be at the end of people’s streets,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
“We will see these (case) numbers go up in coming days.”
Australia’s death toll from COVID-19 was on Thursday revised up after tests showed an 85-year-old man who died in April had contracted the virus.
Australia now has recorded 104 deaths from just over 7,500 infections in a population of 25 million, with several regions believed to be effectively virus free.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Australia has safeguards in place to prevent the virus growing beyond the control of authorities, as he insisted states and territories must continue to reopen large swathes of the economy.
“We’ve gotta live alongside COVID. It’s not going anywhere,” Morrison told reporters in Sydney. “We’ve gotta keep forging ahead.”
Australia has committed to removing the bulk of social distancing restrictions by the end of July, but each state will determine when and how easing takes place.
Australia’s international borders remain closed.