MELBOURNE • The Premier of Australia's second-most populous state, Victoria, yesterday defended his decision to put nine public housing towers in a complete lockdown as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Melbourne's suburbs.
The state recorded 74 new cases yesterday, after last Saturday's 108 cases prompted Premier Daniel Andrews to order about 3,000 people not to leave their homes for at least five days. He also placed police officers there to guard the buildings.
"This is not going to be a pleasant experience for those residents, but I have a message for those residents: This is not about punishment but protection," Mr Andrews said in a televised conference, reported Reuters.
Promising two weeks of free rent and hardship payments to the residents, Mr Andrews said public health workers would test every resident of the buildings, except those who have previously tested positive for the virus.
The Guardian reported that people who refuse to be tested will be detained for a further 10 days from the end of the lockdown period, according to the public health orders. The measure is similar to what is in place for people in hotel quarantine who refuse such testing.
The government said that translators were at the buildings and going door to door to help explain the directions and offer assistance if required.
The Premier did not outline what the consequences were if residents did not return to their buildings last Saturday, though public health directions indicated that there would be a fine.
The communal nature of the facilities, which house people on low incomes, has "genuinely explosive potential for the spread of the virus", said Victoria's chief health officer Brett Sutton.
74 Number of new cases in Victoria state yesterday.
9 Number of public housing towers under a complete lockdown.
3,000 Number of people told not to leave their homes for at least five days.
Of the total of 2,469 cases in the state, there have been 2,119 in metropolitan Melbourne and 256 in regional Victoria. Several cases remain under investigation, reported Reuters.
Twenty-five people are in hospital, including three patients in intensive care. Twenty people have died - no increase from the previous day - while 1,938 people have recovered.
In addition to the complete lockdown orders, more than 30 Melbourne suburbs are also under strict social-distancing orders, but people there can leave their houses to go to work or school, or to buy groceries.
Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, reported 14 new coronavirus cases yesterday, all returning travellers from overseas.
Overall, Australia has weathered the pandemic better than most other nations, with just over 8,400 cases and 104 deaths so far, but the recent spike in Victoria is being closely watched by the rest of the country, which has moved to ease restrictions.