Coronavirus cases in Australia‘s hardest-hit city of Melbourne have surged to a new daily high of 723, as the country saw its deadliest ever day with at least 13 deaths.
The government has also ordered all residents in Victoria state, the country’s most populous state and home to more than 6 million people, to wear face-coverings outside from Sunday.
Though Australia has prided itself on rapidly containing the initial outbreak of Covid-19, a second wave which began in Victoria state last month has forced its capital Melbourne back into lockdown and led to outbreaks in other areas, including Sydney.
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“We’ve now been in this lockdown [in Melbourne] for some weeks and we are not getting the results we would hope for, and as a result the further measures that are taken are certainly necessary,” Australia’s prime minister, Scott Morrison, told reporters, as he backed the restrictions announced by the Victorian government.
“On some days the virus wins, on other days we beat it. But I think we’ve got to be careful not to slip into some idea that there’s some golden immunity that Australia has in relation to this virus.”
Further restrictions on movement could deal a blow to Australia’s economy, which is already in its first recession for 30 years, but failure to control the latest outbreaks would do more economic harm in the long run, Mr Morrison added.
Victoria’s premier, Daniel Andrews, also extended other social distancing restrictions, barring residents in communities southwest of Melbourne from having visitors to their home from Thursday evening.
He said cafes, pubs and restaurants would be allowed to stay open because they were controlled environments where social distancing rules could be enforced.
“Having friends over to your house is not a controlled environment,” Mr Andrews added.
He said while the latest spike in cases was concerning, the majority of them were at known hotspots such as aged-care homes and the number of untraceable infections was “much smaller”.
Australia’s previous record daily count of new infections was 518 on Monday. So far, the country has seen a total of 16,298 cases.
Additional reporting by agencies