Australia's Victoria risks longer lockdown as coronavirus surges

State premier warns lockdown might have to be extended, as Victoria posts highest number of cases since outbreak began.

Australia’s Victoria state on Monday reported the country’s highest-ever daily increase in coronavirus cases, prompting the authorities to warn that a six-week lockdown might have to be extended if people continued to go to work while feeling unwell.

The country’s second-most populous state reported 532 new cases of the virus, and six more deaths, taking the state toll to 77, almost half the national death toll.

Five of the latest deaths were people in homes for the elderly, the authorities said.

Until recently, Australia had avoided the high COVID-19 casualty rates of other countries, but a wave of community transmission in Victoria has prompted a lockdown in Melbourne, the only Australian city to make it mandatory to wear a face mask in public.

“If you’ve got a sniffle, a scratchy throat, a headache, fever, then you can’t go to work,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said in a televised news conference.

“This is what is driving these numbers up, and the lockdown will not end until people stop going to work with symptoms and instead go and get tested.”

Melbourne, home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million people, is halfway through a six-week ban on movement other than for work, buying food, giving or receiving healthcare, or daily exercise. Andrews added that he might announce additional measures later this week.

‘Long way to go’

The state reported 10 deaths on Sunday with seven of those among elderly people living in care homes. It was the highest death toll in a single day since the outbreak in Australia began.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the high number of new cases in Victoria showed how transmission of the illness among younger people, who were considered lower risk, could spread to care homes through family members.

“In Victoria there is still a long way to go,” Morrison told reporters.

“We are still seeing case numbers at elevated levels and … when you get community-based transmission, it does take some time to get that down,” he said.

Victoria has had 8,173 cases and has been all but sealed off from the rest of the country.

Neighbouring New South Wales (NSW) state is also grappling with several virus clusters that have sprung up at a hotel, a Thai restaurant and a club. NSW reported 17 new cases on Monday. NSW has had 3,496 cases.

Australia has recorded a total 14,935 cases and 161 deaths in total.

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