Coronavirus pandemic

Australia warns fresh outbreak will take weeks to tame

Too soon to say if lockdown has helped, says Victoria leader; cases in NSW also on the rise

Above: People in face masks in the normally busy Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne yesterday. Victoria's government has told residents around the city to cover their faces if they have to leave their homes. Right: Medical personnel administering tests
People in face masks in the normally busy Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne yesterday. Victoria’s government has told residents around the city to cover their faces if they have to leave their homes. PHOTO: AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE
Above: People in face masks in the normally busy Bourke Street Mall in Melbourne yesterday. Victoria's government has told residents around the city to cover their faces if they have to leave their homes. Right: Medical personnel administering tests
Medical personnel administering tests for Covid-19 at the Bondi Beach drive-through testing centre yesterday, as the state of New South Wales grapples with an outbreak of new cases. PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY • A surge in Covid-19 cases in Australia's second-biggest city could take weeks to subside despite a lockdown and orders to wear masks, Australia's acting chief medical officer said yesterday as the country braces itself for a second wave of infection.

The authorities in the state of Victoria, whose capital Melbourne is in partial lockdown amid a new outbreak, reported 275 new Covid-19 cases yesterday, down from a daily record of 438 three days earlier.

Australia's acting chief medical officer Paul Kelly said it would take weeks to slow the outbreak to levels seen as recently as last month, when Victoria and the rest of Australia reported single or double-digit daily infections.

"We have learnt over time that the time between introducing a measure and seeing its effect is at least two weeks, and sometimes longer than that," Professor Kelly told Australian Broadcasting Corporation radio.

Australia has recorded about 11,800 coronavirus cases with a death toll of 123, a fraction of what has been seen in other countries.

In most Australian states, the disease has been effectively eliminated. Less than a month ago, Australia was widely heralded as a global leader in combating Covid-19, but quarantine lapses in Victoria triggered a flare-up in infections last month.

Hearings began yesterday for an official inquiry into the outbreak.

Victoria's government has ordered about five million people into a partial lockdown for six weeks and told residents around Melbourne to cover their faces if they have to leave their homes.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said it was too soon to declare that such measures had flattened the outbreak.

"Until we bring some stability to this, we won't be able to talk about a trend," he said, referring to the drop in daily new cases.

The Victorian outbreak and rising daily cases in neighbouring New South Wales, the country's most-populous state, are stoking fears of a national second wave.

NSW reported 20 new infec-tions yesterday, the highest in three months.

The transmission rate in the state is higher than in Victoria, despite social distancing restrictions being tightened.

The NSW authorities have been unable to trace some of the clusters, and the state authorities have urged people to avoid unnecessary travel and public transport.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she would consider tightening social distancing restrictions in cities such as Sydney if the numbers continue to rise over the next few weeks.

Should NSW be forced to implement new restrictions, it would be a hammer blow to Australia's hopes for a quick economic recovery.

Australia is already facing its first recession in nearly three decades, with unemployment at a 22-year high.

Deloitte Access Economics estimated that around 240,000 businesses in the hospitality, professional services and transport industries, in particular, are at high risk of failure after September without enduring government support.

REUTERS

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A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on July 21, 2020, with the headline Australia warns fresh outbreak will take weeks to tame. Subscribe