Australia seals off virus-hit Victoria

Home to more than 6.6m people, Victoria announced a record 127 new cases yesterday

MELBOURNE • Australia will effectively seal off the state of Victoria from the rest of the country, authorities said yesterday, announcing unprecedented measures to tackle a worrying surge in coronavirus cases.

For the first time since the epidemic began, the border between Australia’s two most populous states — Victoria and New South Wales — will be closed today, officials from both states said. Home to more than 6.6 million people, Victoria announced a record 127 new cases yesterday as the virus spread through Melbourne — including a cluster in several densely populated apartment blocks.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described the decision to close off the state as “the smart call, the right call at this time, given the significant challenges we face in containing this virus”.

Police said they will use “drones and other aerial surveillance” to patrol the vast border, with large fines and up to six months in jail for people who breach the order. Plans to reopen Victoria’s border with South Australia have already been put on ice.

Sixteen of the new cases were detected in nine high-rise public housing towers, where 3,000 residents were locked in their homes on Saturday in Australia’s strictest coronavirus response to date.

Community leaders have raised concerns about the targeted nature of the “hard lockdown”, which saw hundreds of police officers deployed with almost no warning, leaving some residents with little time to stock up on essentials.

Tensions flared when a man tried to leave one of the towers yesterday, sparking a scuffle during which police alleged he bit an officer. The 32-year-old was arrested and taken into custody.

Australia has recorded more than 8,500 cases of coronavirus and 106 fatalities (at press time) from Covid-19, including two deaths in Victoria over the past 24 hours.

The bulk of new daily cases are now being detected in Melbourne, while most other regions are enjoying relaxed restrictions after largely curbing the virus spread. — AFP