Melbourne students to return to online learning, Victoria state marks week of triple-digit coronavirus cases

Melbourne went under a six-week lockdown after a spike in community-transmitted cases. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE (REUTERS, BLOOMBERG) - Australia's Victoria state reported 273 new cases of the coronavirus and another Covid-19 death on Sunday (July 12), marking a week of triple-digit increases in infections, as state authorities battle fresh outbreaks of the pandemic.

Melbourne, the capital of Australia's second-most populous state, went under a six-week lockdown on Thursday after a spike in community-transmitted cases.

"This is a dangerous time," Victoria's Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.

"I know we are asking a lot of Victorians, but we simply have no choice but to acknowledge the reality that we face and to do what must be done, and that is to follow those rules, to only go out when you need to."

Sunday's cases, the second-highest for Victoria, home to a quarter of Australia's 25 million people, follow a record 288 infections reported on Friday. The increase partly reflects increased testing, with the state conducting more than 30,000 tests daily.

There have been multiple outbreaks of the virus, with cases recorded at some public and private hospitals, aged-care facilities, public housing complexes and supermarkets.

A man in his 70s died over the weekend of Covid-19, Mr Andrews said, taking the national toll to 108.

Most primary and secondary school students in Melbourne will be learning remotely until at least Aug 19, with exceptions for students with special needs, among others, the premier said.

"If we simply allow all of our kids to move around, parents doing drop-offs and pick-ups, if we pretend that this isn't real, then that will put at risk this strategy," said Mr Andrews.

In New South Wales, Premier Gladys Berejiklian cautioned that action could be taken against large gatherings and businesses if people are seen to be ignoring social-distancing measures. The state recorded five new cases on Sunday.

"Do not be surprised if the government takes decisions to further reduce the risk, in the next month in particular, of community transmission getting to a stage where it's out of control," she said at a press conference on Sunday.

Authorities also warned of a cluster of infections linked to a hotel in Sydney's south-west, and urged anyone who visited the venue from July 3 to 10 to self-isolate.

Nine cases have been connected to the hotel, according to New South Wales health officials.

Australia's other seven states and territories have banned travellers from Victoria amid concern that community transmission was causing a second wave of the virus.

New South Wales, the most-populous state, recorded five new cases on Sunday as it moved to charge all travellers flying in from overseas A$3,000 (S$2,900) for a mandatory two-week quarantine in hotels.

The decision to charge travellers, including Australian citizens, came after the federal government on Friday announced caps on the number of people arriving in Australia.

NSW also has asked more than 1,000 people who recently visited a pub in south-west Sydney to self-isolate and get tested for Covid-19 after a growing cluster has been linked to the pub.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison attended a rugby match on Saturday in Sydney, raising some concerns. Asked whether it was a wise decision, Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer Nick Coatsworth said Mr Morrison attended the game in a safe manner.

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