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Australia looking to slow down return of citizens as virus cases surge in Victoria state

23 Comments

Australia will likely slow down the return of its citizens from abroad, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Wednesday, as it grapples with a fresh outbreak of the coronavirus that has led it to isolate its second most populous state.

The border between Victoria and New South Wales, the busiest in the country, was closed overnight and around 4.9 million residents in the Victorian capital of Melbourne will return to partial lockdown at midnight following a spike in COVID-19 cases in the city.

"The rest of the country knows that the sacrifice that you're going through right now is not just for you and your own family, but it's for the broader Australian community," Morrison said during a televised media conference.

"I can imagine the frustration ... we don't have control over the virus as such, but we do have control over how we respond."

With the Victoria shutdown putting pressure on other states, Morrison said he would take a proposal on Friday to the national cabinet created to deal with the pandemic, seeking to slow down the return of Australian citizens and permanent residents by reducing the number of repatriation flights. The two groups have been the only arrivals allowed since Australia closed its international border in March.

Neighboring New Zealand has already taken that step, announcing on Tuesday that its national airline will not take new inbound bookings for three weeks to reduce the burden on overflowing quarantine facilities.

There has been growing public concern in Australia about security lapses that have led to returnees spreading the virus, despite undertaking quarantine on arrival. Local media reported security guards had breached infection control protocols -- including allegedly having sex with guests being held in isolation -- prompting the government to replace the private contractors with prison staff and launch an inquiry.

The state reported 134 new infections in the 24 hours to Wednesday morning, down from the previous day's record 191 but well over the low single digit daily increases of the other states and territories.

Of the new cases, 75 were occupants of nine public housing towers that were earlier this week placed under the country's strictest lockdown so far. Around 3,000 residents have been banned from leaving the buildings, which are under police guard, for five days. All residents are being tested for COVID-19.

At the border with NSW, cars banked up on both sides as police checkpoints caused delays of more than an hour for drivers. The state line is heavily trafficked by daily commuters who live and work on either side.

"I got a permit but with all the checks, my commute across was heavily delayed," Amanda Cohn, who crosses the border from her home in NSW each day to reach the Victorian hospital where she works, told Reuters by telephone. "Plenty of others need to get across and they don't have a permit."

Authorities had hastily set up a system to issue travel permits for a select group, mostly commuters in border towns, but a website created to dispense passes crashed soon after its launch on Tuesday evening with officials saying more than 44,000 people applied. Officials reassured that regular commuters could instead show residential and employment documentation.

Victoria's only other internal border, with South Australia, has been closed since mid-March.

Panic buying in Melbourne

In Melbourne, restaurants and cafes will be limited to serving takeaway food, while gyms, beauty salons and cinemas will be forced to close again for six weeks.

Residents will be restricted to their homes except for work, exercise, medical care or to buy essentials -- a return to social isolation that was only recently lifted.

Shoppers stripped supermarket shelves Wednesday. The country's largest supermarket chain, Woolworths, said it had reimposed buying limits on items including pasta, vegetables and sugar after shoppers rushed to stores across Victoria state.

Experts have warned that people everywhere will have to get used to the "new normal" of on-and-off restrictions as new clusters emerge and subside, while there are also concerns over the economic and health impacts the measures will bring.

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Melbourne lockdown would cost the economy up to $1 billion ($700 million) a week, telling public broadcaster ABC the burden would "fall heavily on businesses".

Professor Michael Kyrios, a clinical psychologist at Flinders University, warned that Victoria needed to brace for a "coming mental health crisis" as a result.

"This will likely place the mental health care system in a precarious situation with very limited ability to mobilize resources in response to the increased incidence of mental illness arising from the COVID crisis," he said.

State Premier Daniel Andrews on Wednesday acknowledged the costs to Victoria's 6.6 million residents, saying his job required him "to make not just the popular calls, but the really difficult, the hard calls".

"This is not the situation that anybody wanted to be in but it is the reality that we must confront," he said. "To do otherwise is to pretend that this isn't real, to pretend that we have other options."

Nationwide, Australia has reported about 9,000 COVID-19 cases and 106 deaths from the virus.

© Thomson Reuters/ AFP

©2020 GPlusMedia Inc.

23 Comments
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That's what they get for refusing to wear masks.

-2 ( +7 / -9 )

@doggar

I 100% agree!

Wear masks, wash hands, use sterilizers and keep social distance where it is possible.

Simple basic rules.

If you don't follow the basics, nothing can be built up.

-2 ( +6 / -8 )

Yeah their face mask policy is still consistent with WHO recommendations

7 ( +8 / -1 )

We got so close to eradication in Australia. Such a shame the government kept taking such a complacent approach. As for the face mask policy being consistent with WHO recommendations... Yeah... Because WHO has been so effective in the management and prevention of spread of this disease. Right....

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

That's what they get for refusing to wear masks.

Rather simplistic analysis. The infection (and death) rate due to Covid-19 in Australia is significantly lower than most nations. I think the death rate is still the lowest in the OECD, along with NZ and Malaysia. This spike is a concern but on a world scale, very small. The authorities should be able to deal with it, and so far most Aussies have been patient and compliant, and the results can be seen in the low figures. You wont see armed militia storming legislatures there demanding the state "opens up".

Oh, and our Kiwi mates are not big mask-wearers, and are world leaders so far in this pandemic, along with Taiwan.

5 ( +6 / -1 )

@BurakuminDes

Oh, and our Kiwi mates are not big mask-wearers, and are world leaders so far in this pandemic,

Please keep the population of your Kiwi mates in mind.

I think the population is smaller than my hometown in a deep country side where I was born.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

Well done Australia for leading the world in draconian law

-1 ( +7 / -8 )

Nationwide, Australia has reported about 9,000 COVID-19 cases and 106 deaths from the virus.

106 deaths. Out of a nation of, what?, 25 million? That's 4 deaths per million.

Which is two orders of magnitude lower than the US, UK, Italy and most other like nations.

Good on ya, Aussieland.

8 ( +8 / -0 )

As for the face mask policy being consistent with WHO recommendations... Yeah... Because WHO has been so effective in the management and prevention of spread of this disease. Right....

You got it but you didn't get it

-2 ( +1 / -3 )

Would be good for Australia to review the policy on masks. Lockdowns and restrictions for returning residents are too great a cost esp if wearing a simple mask may prove effective.

3 ( +3 / -0 )

Please keep the population of your Kiwi mates in mind. I think the population is smaller than my hometown in a deep country side where I was born.

Our Kiwi mates do have cities, you know. Auckland (1.5 million), Wellington and Christchurch (both over 400,000). They don't all live spread out across the countryside with the sheep.

So as BurakuminDes says, they have managed to control their Covid-19 without being a nation of mask-wearers, even in the aforementioned cities. That's not to downgrade the importance of masks, just stating a straightforward fact in the case of the Kiwis.

-1 ( +3 / -4 )

Will they be doing this lock down of the poor living in public housing every flu season?

-1 ( +2 / -3 )

Will they be doing this lock down of the poor living in public housing every flu season?

No. There's a vaccine for the flu.

3 ( +4 / -1 )

The correct approach. Go hard and fast. Good on them. Lock down if necessary. Get on top of it and they'll have real results in weeks. Do what they did in NZ, and aim to wipeout the virus. Wish they would show some resolve in Tokyo, but sadly no. In the meanwhile, in the USA...

0 ( +4 / -4 )

I'm glad to see so many infectious disease experts here chiming in giving their 2 cents on the subject. Without you experts we wouldn't know what to do. The question is, why are you doctors here and not in the hospital?

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Security guards bonking guests in quarantine?! Keeping it classy, Australia.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

Magnet - Such a shame the government kept taking such a complacent approach. As for the face mask policy being consistent with WHO recommendations... Yeah... Because WHO has been so effective in the management and prevention of spread of this disease. Right....

You are right about the (useless) WHO. I have serious questions about who the WHO are actually representing. I know who the WHO is supposed to be representing, but they seem to be more concerned about covering for China.

0 ( +2 / -2 )

The panic is understandable, but the sooner we all learn to live with the virus the better. I am currently living in a place with around 4,000 or more new cases per day. Life goes on here (with precaution) because staying at home is not an option for most.

1 ( +3 / -2 )

The panic is understandable, but the sooner we all learn to live with the virus the better. I am currently living in a place with around 4,000 or more new cases per day. Life goes on here (with precaution) because staying at home is not an option for most.

Sounds like you had the poor fortune to be living in a place with an extremely poor response to the virus. It would be scary for so many people to even leave the house in such a diseased area.

Too bad you weren't stuck in one of the countries that handled the virus effectively, meaning that people can leave their houses without being worried about diseased people everywhere.

-2 ( +2 / -4 )

Sounds like you had the poor fortune to be living in a place with an extremely poor response to the virus. It would be scary for so many people to even leave the house in such a diseased area.

Too bad you weren't stuck in one of the countries that handled the virus effectively, meaning that people can leave their houses without being worried about diseased people everywhere.

I see a lot more fear in Australia or New Zealand when a small cluster of 20 people makes headline news.

Here there is no fear to leave the house despite the thousands of daily cases because we have already been living with the virus for so long, we are used to it. We have to be extra cautious but it's part of daily life.

Foreign tourists are still allowed to visit here, there are no border restrictions, businesses are all operating but with some restrictions. When will Australia be able to open its borders again? Waiting for a miracle cure.

1 ( +2 / -1 )

I see a lot more fear in Australia or New Zealand when a small cluster of 20 people makes headline news.

That isn’t fear, that is information and precaution. When was the last time a cluster was discovered in NZ? April? All cases are now arriving at the border as opposed to the community transmission that your country has. People are not afraid but people still want to know.

2 ( +3 / -1 )

serendipitous1 - Security guards bonking guests in quarantine?! Keeping it classy, Australia.

What are suggesting?

-2 ( +0 / -2 )

Read the article.

0 ( +0 / -0 )

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