Australia posts record number of new coronavirus infections

MELBOURNE (AFP) – Australia reported a record 502 new coronavirus infections yesterday, nearly four months after the epidemic initially peaked, with authorities warning the country was entering a critical new phase.

Most of the new cases were reported in the southeastern state of Victoria, where authorities struggled to bring an outbreak in Melbourne under control despite an almost two-week lockdown in Australia’s second-biggest city.

Australia’s new coronavirus infections previously peaked on March 28 when 459 cases were reported, according to data compiled by AFP.

Australia had since appeared to bring the virus under control and eased restrictions. Like neighbouring New Zealand, it won plaudits for its pandemic response.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced 484 new cases and two more deaths in the state yesterday, bringing its total of active cases to just over 3,400. Australia has now recorded almost 13,000 cases of the virus and 128 fatalities in a country of about 25 million.

Tourists take selfies in front of the Harbour Bridge in Sydney. PHOTO: AFP

Melbourne residents will be required to wear masks outside from midnight – making the city the first place in Australia to mandate face coverings in public – in a new effort to slow the virus spread.

But Andrews said “further behaviour change” would still be required after analysis showed almost nine in 10 people recently diagnosed with coronavirus did not self-isolate between feeling sick and getting tested.

Just over half of the new patients also failed to stay at home while waiting for their test results, he added, saying authorities believed insecure work conditions were a key driver of the trend.

Andrews said casual workers across a range of industries, who do not get sick-leave provisions, were worried about “feeding their kids, paying their bills”, but could apply for a AUD1,500 hardship payment if they contract the virus.

There are growing fears about the virus spreading through vulnerable populations after outbreaks at several nursing homes, while inmates at six prisons have been confined to their cells after a guard tested positive.

The outbreak left Australia rattled and dampened hopes of a speedy economic recovery.