SYDNEY • Australia’s most populous state reported 14 new cases of Covid-19 yesterday, with a growing cluster at a pub used by freight drivers travelling the country adding to fears of a second wave of the virus.
The new cases in New South Wales come after neighbouring Victoria state last week forced about five million people back into lockdown after a surge of new cases of the coronavirus.
Australia has avoided the high Covid-19 casualty numbers of other nations with swift and strict measures, recording fewer than 10,000 cases in total, or about a sixth of the daily cases seen in the United States in recent days. However, the authorities are worried about rising cases of community transmission.
This accounted for eight of the 14 new cases in New South Wales, while the rest were people who have returned from overseas and are already in hotel quarantine or have returned from Victoria.
The bulk of these community transmission cases were people who recently visited a pub in southwest Sydney, the Crossroads Hotel, taking the cluster to 13 in all.
“The concern is that this hotel is used by freight drivers who are transporting essential supplies across the country,” deputy chief medical officer Michael Kidd told the Australian Broadcasting Corp. “They are not being tested.”
In a bid to curtail the spread, the authorities are urging anyone who visited the pub to isolate for two weeks and get tested. Long lines of cars waited for more than three hours yesterday outside a drive-through test clinic at the venue.
The virus, however, has already spread to at least one more high-traffic venue, with a patron at Sydney’s Star casino on July 4 testing positive for Covid-19, the Star Entertainment Group said.
Yesterday, the authorities in Victoria reported 177 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, the eighth consecutive day that the state has seen triple-digit rises in Covid-19 cases, but down from 273 cases the previous day.
“It may not be our peak yet,” Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton told reporters in the state capital Melbourne. “I would like to see a week of decreasing numbers.”
Australia’s Minister for Health Greg Hunt said 1,000 military personnel had been dispatched to help state officials curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
Scientists, meanwhile, have begun trials of a potential Covid-19 vaccine developed at the University of Queensland.
Volunteers were due to receive the first vaccine dose yesterday morning. Preliminary results of the trial are expected to be released by the end of September, the university said.
Separately, Sydney residents were warned yesterday to put the brakes on partying due to the discovery of the virus cluster at the city pub, on the heels of the major outbreak in Melbourne.
Three pubs in Sydney and its surrounds have been closed after being linked to outbreaks or failing to comply with social distancing rules, while other events are under investigation, with the whole country on edge over a resurgence of the virus.
The new cluster emerged after Melbourne entered a six-week lockdown last Thursday, while the state of Victoria was sealed off from the rest of the country in an effort to contain the virus.
New South Wales police assistant commissioner Tony Cooke yesterday slammed the “moronic behaviour of people at dance parties”, after local media published footage of large private get-togethers in Sydney’s wealthy eastern suburbs.
City residents are allowed a maximum of 20 visitors to their homes under restrictions which have been gradually eased in recent weeks as the number of infections dwindled.
The state’s police minister David Elliott warned that if the situation was not brought under control, pubs could be closed again.
“If we have to close hotels and clubs again, the patrons will have to take some of the ownership of that,” he said at a press conference, adding: “I will, however, work to my dying breath to make sure that that doesn’t happen.”
REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE