SYDNEY: Australia on Thursday (Jul 30) reported a record number of new COVID-19 infections and its deadliest day of the pandemic so far following a spike in cases at elderly care homes.
Days after authorities expressed hope that a Melbourne lockdown – now in its third week – was bringing persistent outbreaks under control, the surge is a potent warning that the country’s initial success in managing COVID-19 can quickly unravel.
Thirteen deaths and 723 positive tests were reported in the southeastern state of Victoria alone, well beyond the previous nationwide record of 549 cases set on Monday.
The toll takes the country’s total fatalities from the coronavirus to 189, more than half of which have occurred in the second-most popular state of Victoria and its capital Melbourne, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews indicated the leap was in part linked to a surge in cases in aged care homes.
Most of those who died were aged in their 70s to 90s.
At one of the worst-hit facilities, Epping Gardens, an ambulance was seen on Wednesday taking away the body of one of the deceased residents.
Health workers rolled other masked residents on stretchers to waiting ambulances for transfer to hospital.
“I’m obviously concerned to see these numbers increase. It is not unexpected in some ways when you have got so many cases in private sector aged care,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
Too many people were going to work when they were sick or while they were waiting for test results, he added.
Social distancing restrictions would be extended, with residents in the state’s south no longer allowed to have visitors to their homes from late Thursday.
Cafes, pubs and restaurants would be allowed to stay open, however, because these were controlled environments where social distancing rules could be enforced.
“Having friends over to your house is not a controlled environment,” Andrews said.
Everyone in the state will from Sunday also be required to wear a mask when outside.
Earlier this month, Victoria told nearly 5 million people around Melbourne, the country’s second-most-populous city, to wear masks outside and stay home except for essential trips.
The outbreak in Victoria state has spilled into neighbouring states despite internal borders being closed.
Three new cases were reported in the state of Queensland, two of whom were believed to have contracted COVID-19 while in Sydney. Queensland closed its borders to people from Sydney on Wednesday.
Queensland police allege that two 19-year-old women who brought the virus into the state after returning from a trip to Victoria had falsified travel documents and lied to authorities about their movements.
Both now face criminal charges but one was continuing to refuse to tell officials where she had been, amid a spike in cases south of Brisbane where the pair reside.
“They went to extraordinary lengths to be deceitful and deceptive and quite frankly criminal in their behaviour and that is what has put the community at risk,” Queensland Police Commissioner Katarina Carroll told reporters.
Queensland earlier this month denied entry to anyone who had been to Victoria in the previous 14 days.
Several schools in Sydney were shuttered overnight amid growing fears that the country’s largest city may also be tipping toward an uncontrollable outbreak.
New South Wales reported 18 new cases, roughly in line with previous days.
Australia has been one of the most successful countries in containing the pandemic, with most states and territories reporting few or no new cases in recent weeks.
But Melbourne has had thousands of new infections since mid-June, an outbreak initially blamed on security bungles at hotels where returning international travellers were under mandatory quarantine.
The government has deployed disaster-relief teams to elderly care homes in the city.
Those teams – which usually tackle earthquakes and other disasters overseas – include doctors, nurses, paramedics and logistics experts.
Australia has recorded more than 16,000 COVID-19 cases and 189 deaths, in a population of 25 million.