Australia has reported a record 501 new coronavirus cases today, nearly four months after the pandemic initially peaked in the country.
Victoria accounted for 484 of the new cases as authorities struggle to bring the outbreak under control despite a nearly two-week lockdown in Melbourne.
Sydney’s state of New South Wales is also on ‘high alert’ with infections popping up in new places and spreading in the community.
Australia’s new cases previously peaked on March 28 with 459 new cases before restrictions were eased as the outbreak appeared to be under control.
Australia has reported a record 501 new coronavirus cases today. Above, frontline medical testing staff are seen at a pop-up site at Colac Area Health in Victoria
Victoria accounted for 484 of the new cases as authorities struggle to bring the outbreak under control. Above, registered nurse Debbie Bhatti and team members conduct COVID-19 swab tests as large crowds queue at a Bondi Beach drive-through testing clinic on July 22
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced 484 new cases and two more deaths in the state today, bringing the state’s total active cases to just over 3,400.
Australia has now recorded almost 13,000 cases of COVID-19 and 128 fatalities in a country of about 25million.
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 diagnosed with coronavirus over the two weeks to Tuesday did not self-isolate between feeling sick and seeking a test.
Just over half of people also failed to stay at home between being tested and receiving their results, he added.
‘That means people have felt unwell and just gone about their business,’ Andrews told reporters.
‘They have gone out shopping. They have gone to work. They have been at the height of their infectivity and they have just continued on as usual.’
Authorities believe that insecure work conditions are a key factor in discouraging people from isolating.
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 Aus$1,500 (£840) 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.
Australia has now recorded almost 13,000 cases of COVID-19 and 128 fatalities in a country of about 25million. Above, a man is seen wearing a face mask in Melbourne on July 22
Victoria accounted for 484 of the new cases overnight as authorities struggle to bring the outbreak under control despite a nearly two-week lockdown in Melbourne
Andrews warned that the number of cases would stay on an upward trajectory if people did not self-isolate after getting tested.
‘And a six-week shutdown will not be for six weeks. It will run for much longer than that.’
Victoria has recorded more than 6,700 coronavirus infections, more than half of Australia’s total.
The outbreak has left Australia rattled and dampened hopes of a speedy economic recovery.
An inquiry into how the virus spread in Melbourne heard this week that many cases were likely linked to infection control breaches at hotels used to quarantine residents returning from overseas.
Victoria has effectively been sealed off from the rest of the country in an effort to contain the virus, but new cases have been detected in neighbouring New South Wales state.
Cross-border travel between Victoria and NSW is only allowed for work, education or medical care, after the border was closed this month for the first time in 100 years.
Staff and students travelling from Victoria into NSW to attend boarding schools or universities are required to self-isolate for two weeks and test negative for the virus, while seasonal workers from Victoria are barred.
St Johns Ambulance Victoria volunteers Caitlin Styles (left) and Alannah Griffiths are seen at a pop up Hospital at the Melbourne Showgrounds in Melbourne
Barricades have been installed along some of Coolangatta’s streets to help stop people crossing the Queensland-NSW border without going through the appropriate checks
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian described the coming weeks as ‘the most critical’ since the height of the last lockdown, when the state held the mantle of Australia’s hardest-hit region.
Several clusters have emerged in Sydney, which health officials believe sprung up after an infected man from Melbourne visited a popular pub.
‘We are not out of the woods by any stretch, quite the opposite,’ Berejiklian told a press conference.
‘We remain on high alert and we have some level of anxiety as to the extent of community transmission.’
Berejiklian said new restrictions would come into force Friday to tighten rules for bars, cafes, weddings and funerals, warning they could still be extended further.
‘A lack of compliance now has made us go down the compulsory path and we don’t apologise for that,’ she said.
She raised concern about a Black Lives Matter protest planned for next week.
‘Irrespective of the issue, we need to follow the health advice. Large crowds are a huge concern. We cannot allow that march to continue unfortunately,’ Berejiklian said.
‘We’re at a critical point in New South Wales and we don’t want to see the virus spread and actions like that are a huge health risk.’
Some states and territories were due to report daily figures later Wednesday but new community outbreaks have not been detected in less-populated regions for weeks.
Australia, like neighbouring New Zealand, has generally been lauded for its pandemic response.
The latest outbreak in Australia has set back plans for the two countries to create a ‘travel bubble’ which would ease their strict border restrictions.
New Zealand has not seen a new case in the community for more than two months, with every new arrival quarantined at the border.
The country has seen 1,555 cases and 22 deaths.