Australian state’s cases spike, borders to shut

MELBOURNE, AUSTRALIA (AP) — The hard-hit Australian state of Victoria recorded two deaths and its highest-ever daily increase in coronavirus cases yesterday as authorities prepare to close its border with New South Wales.

The death of the two men, one in his 60s and the other in his 90s, brings the national death toll from COVID-19 to 106.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said of the 127 new cases, 53 were among 3,000 people who have been confined by police to their apartments in nine public housing blocks since last Saturday.

Andrews said the high number of cases reflected a daily record number of tests exceeding 24,500.

Andrews also announced that the state border with New South Wales will be closed from tonight in an agreement between the two state premiers and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Morrison had previously opposed states closing their borders.

Police at a checkpoint in the locked-down suburb of Broadmeadows in Melbourne. PHOTO: AFP

It will be the first time Australia’s two most populous states have closed their border since the pandemic began.

New South Wales had previously banned travel from dozens of Melbourne suburbs that were locked down last week for a month due to high rates of infection.

The leader of Australia’s most populous state said her government’s decision to close its border with hard-hit Victoria marked a new phase in the country’s outbreak.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian had criticised states that closed their borders to New South Wales residents when Sydney, the state capital and Australia’s largest city, had most of the country’s COVID-19 cases.

She noted the overwhelming majority of new cases in Melbourne in recent weeks were from community transmission. Everywhere else in Australia, the vast majority of cases were people infected overseas or by a returned traveller, Berejiklian said.

“What is occurring in Victoria has not yet occurred anywhere else in Australia,” she said. “It’s a new part of the pandemic and, as such, it requires a new type of response.”

New South Wales police will close the Victorian border from tonight. Some flights and trains services would continue for travellers who are given permits and exemptions, Berejiklian said. In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

India has overtaken Russia to become the third worst-affected nation by the coronavirus after the country reported 24,248 new cases yesterday. India has now confirmed 697,413 cases, including 19,693 deaths. Russia has 680,283 cases. Indian authorities late Sunday withdrew a planned reopening of the famed Taj Mahal monument, after new cases were detected in the area.

India’s Culture Ministry had decided to reopen all monuments across the country yesterday after more than three months with a cap on the number of visitors and mandatory wearing of face masks. After a strict nationwide lockdown, India has eased restrictions in most of the country except for the highest-risk areas.

South Korea reported 48 new infections yesterday, 24 of them each linked to local transmissions and international arrivals, continuing a weeks-long spread that has inspired second-guessing on whether officials were too quick to ease social restrictions entering May.

The figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the national caseload to 13,137 infections and 284 deaths.

Health Minister Park Neung-hoo during a meeting yesterday said the outbreak remains controllable while urging vigilance to slow the spread.

China reported four new cases, three from outside the country and one transmitted locally in Beijing, the National Health Commission reported.

Another 106 people were in isolation as suspected cases or for testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms.

China has recorded 4,634 deaths among 83,557 cases since the virus was detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year.