By Byron Kaye and Renju Jose
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s Victoria state on Monday reported the country’s highest daily increase in coronavirus infections, prompting the authorities to warn a six-week lockdown may last longer if people continue to go to work while feeling unwell.
The second-most populous state reported 532 new cases of the virus which causes COVID-19, taking the national total to 549, the most new cases in a day since the pandemic arrived.
Victoria currently has more than 4,500 active cases after weeks of triple digits daily rises.
It reported six more deaths, taking the state toll to 77, almost half the total national death toll. Five of the deaths were in aged care facilities, which have been hit hardest in the state.
Australia has avoided the high COVID-19 casualty rates of other countries, but a wave of community transmission in Victoria has prompted a lockdown in Melbourne, the only Australian city to make it mandatory to wear a facemask in public.
“If you’ve got a sniffle, a scratchy throat, a headache, fever, then you can’t go to work,” said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews in a televised news conference.
“This is what is driving these numbers up, and the lockdown will not end until people stop going to work with symptoms and instead go and get tested because they have symptoms.”
Melbourne, home to a fifth of Australia’s 25 million population, is halfway though a six-week ban on movement other than for work, buying food, giving or receiving healthcare, or daily exercise. Andrews added that he may announce additional measures later this week.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the high number of new cases in Victoria showed how transmission of the illness among younger people, who were considered lower risk, could spread to aged care facilities through family members.
“In Victoria there is still a long way to go,” Morrison told reporters.
“We are still seeing case numbers at elevated levels and … when you get community-based transmission, it does take some time to get that down.” Victoria has had a total of 8,173 cases.
Neighbouring New South Wales (NSW) state, the country’s most populous, is also grappling with several virus clusters that have sprung up at a hotel, a Thai restaurant and a club. NSW reported 17 new cases on Monday. NSW has had 3,496 cases in total, about 1,100 active.
Australia has recorded a total 14,935 cases and 161 deaths and authorities on Monday warned more lives would be lost as infections continued to rise.
“The tragedy of COVID-19 is that we know, with the number of new infections that we have seen today, that there will be many further deaths in the days ahead,” Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told reporters.
More than 16.13 million people have been reported to be infected by the novel coronavirus globally and 644,836 have died, according to a Reuters tally.
($1 = 1.4077 Australian dollars)
(Reporting by Byron Kaye and Renju Jose; editing by Richard Pullin and Michael Perry)