Australian PM defends Melbourne lockdown

CANBERRA (AP) — Australia’s Prime Minister said a shutdown of the nation’s second-largest city is necessary and promised continuing financial support for businesses that fear they will not survive a second lockdown.

The Victoria state government said Melbourne and part of its surrounds will lock down for six weeks because the rate of coronavirus spread was unsustainable.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government’s medical advice agreed with the Victorian government that the move was necessary.

He said, “I hope it isn’t for that long. I hope it’s for a shorter period as possible.” Morrison said Australia’s seven other states and territories would continue to relax pandemic restrictions.

Victoria authorities announced another 134 cases in the latest 24 hours.

Women hold signs outside housing commission apartments under lockdown in Melbourne, Australia. PHOTO: AP

Breaches of infection controls at Melbourne hotels where international travellers are required to isolate for 14 days have been blamed for much of the disease spread. The state government last week responded by banning new arrivals at Melbourne Airport for two weeks.

Morrison said he wanted to reduce the numbers of Australian citizens, permanent residents and foreigners exempt from Australia’s travel ban landing at Australian airports because of the strain on hotel quarantine.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

South Korea reported 63 new cases of the coronavirus as health authorities scramble to stem transmissions tied to places such as restaurants and workplaces. The figures yesterday brought the national caseload to 13,244 infections, including 285 deaths. Twenty-nine of the new cases came from the densely populated Seoul area, which has been at the centre of a virus resurgence since late May. At least 33 cases were linked to international arrivals.

Authorities in Mumbai, one of the worst-affected Indian cities, are allowing people to get tested for COVID-19 without a doctor’s prescription. That is in contrast to other major Indian cities where a prescription is mandatory to get tested for the virus. A Senior Administrative Official in Mumbai Iqbal Singh Chahal said, “We want to test as many people as possible.” The low rate of testing in India has been a concern. India has been conducting a little less than 7,400 tests per one million people. According to the Indian Council of Medical Research, over 200,000 samples are being tested every day compared to just a few hundred in March.

India reported 482 new deaths in the last 24 hours, taking the toll to 20,642. It also recorded 22,752 new confirmed infections, increasing the total to 742,417.

A New Zealand politician resigned after admitting he leaked the names of coronavirus patients to news media. Conservative opposition lawmaker Hamish Walker said yesterday he was sorry for his actions and was withdrawing his candidacy for the September general election in a seat he was expected to win.

Walker sent the details of 18 patients to several news outlets on condition he remained anonymous as the source. He said he was exposing a “significant privacy issue” for the government because the patient names were not password secured. But news organisations said he gave them the information to refute claims he was racist, after he earlier said active cases were coming into the country from India, Pakistan and South Korea.