SYDNEY • Australian officials tried to contain a fresh outbreak of the coronavirus in Victoria yesterday, telling residents in the cluster hot spots to avoid travel outside their suburbs in Melbourne, the state’s capital and the country’s second-largest city.
Officials in Victoria have also stalled plans to allow increased numbers of diners in restaurants and cafes, and reimposed tighter rules on gatherings in homes in response to the new outbreak.
It was the first major back-pedal on easing restrictions, as the rest of the country continues to record low numbers of new cases and work to restart the economy.
Victoria has seen double-digit rises in new infections, accounting for nearly 90 per cent of the 126 cases detected nationally over the past week.
“At the moment the recommendation is simply an advisory, a strong advisory, where what we don’t want is people to come from those areas to other parts of Victoria, or interstate,” the country’s chief medical officer Brendan Murphy told Australian Broadcasting Corp radio.
“If you are coming from interstate and you have family in one of those areas, we would prefer you not to come and visit that area and potentially take the virus back.”
The state government has said it would reimpose restrictions on social gatherings after the surge in new cases attributed to family get-togethers attended by people with mild symptoms.
Officials have also criticised people who have gone shopping while awaiting Covid-19 test results.
The premier of neighbouring New South Wales, Ms Gladys Berejiklian, said anyone intending to visit the state capital Sydney should reconsider. “At this stage, the advice is do not travel to those hot spots,” she told reporters.
Sydney was the epicentre of Australia’s Covid-19 outbreak but has seen few new cases recently.
She added that people should not travel to Melbourne unless they had to.
Melbourne’s six hot spots
Infections have been reported in six local areas in Melbourne – Hume, Casey, Brimbank, Moreland, Cardinia and Darebin. These areas cover parts of the Australian city and are home to one in five of those living in Victoria state.
These hot spots include suburbs in the north, west and south-east of the city and have a population of more than a million.
TWO FAMILY GATHERING CLUSTERS
There are two clusters accounting for 25 coronavirus cases in the Keilor Downs and Coburg suburbs of Melbourne and include residents in Hume, Brimbank, Moreland and Cardinia.
Last Saturday, Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews told The Guardian newspaper: “The experts tell us that, largely, the numbers are being driven by families – families having big get-togethers and not following the advice around distancing and hygiene.”
THE STAMFORD PLAZA AND RYDGES ON SWANSON HOTEL CLUSTERS
There are two large clusters among workers at the Stamford Plaza Hotel in Melbourne’s central business district and the Rydges on Swanson Hotel in Carlton.
Among these workers, who mostly live in the suburbs, are 30 coronavirus cases.
Both these hotels served as quarantine facilities for international travellers, and the authorities believe a contractor was infected by a traveller.
MONASH HEALTH CLUSTER
There is one cluster linked to a patient at a Monash Health facility which has infected seven people.
The authorities believe this is primarily a family-based outbreak concentrated in Melbourne’s south-eastern suburbs.
There have been four cases linked to the H&M shop at Northland Shopping Centre in the Darebin area.
There are also a few cases at aged-care facilities, schools and early learning centres across Melbourne, ABC News reported.
Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton has blamed the rise on lockdown fatigue and complacency, saying the situation had now reached a “dangerous point” as there was “no Plan B”.
“We are absolutely at risk of a second peak but we can get on top of it, and we must get on top of it,” he told reporters last Saturday. Like the rest of the country, early restrictions on travel and gatherings successfully curbed the virus in Melbourne before last week.
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 city’s north and within extended families in a couple of suburbs.
The jump in cases in Victoria has threatened plans to reopen domestic borders within Australia, with other state leaders watching the outbreak closely to determine the potential risks.
Queensland’s premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, who has been a holdout in committing to reopen the state’s borders, said a formal decision would have to wait until at least Friday, when the federal Cabinet meets. “There is a lot of active community transmission happening in Victoria,” she said.
Despite the spike in cases in Victoria, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has urged states and territories to continue removing the bulk of social distancing restrictions by the end of July.
“We have to ensure that we can run our economy, run our lives, run our communities alongside this virus,” he told reporters in Sydney.
Australia had reported nearly 7,500 coronavirus cases and 102 deaths as of Sunday.
REUTERS, XINHUA, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE