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Australian leader defends Melbourne’s new coronavirus lockdown

Cafe owner Maria Iatrou
Cafe owner Maria Iatrou stands in her empty coffee shop July 6 in Melbourne.
(Andy Brownbill / Associated Press)

Australia’s prime minister says a new coronavirus-induced shutdown of Melbourne, the nation’s second-largest city, is necessary and promised continuing financial support for businesses that fear they won’t survive a second lockdown.

The Victoria state government said Melbourne and some of its environs will lock down for six weeks from Wednesday night because the rate of COVID-19 spread was unsustainable.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the federal government’s medical advice supported the Victorian government’s assertion that the move was necessary.

“I hope it isn’t for that long,” Morrison said. “I hope it’s for a shorter period as possible.”

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By contrast, Morrison said, Australia’s seven other states and territories would continue to relax their pandemic restrictions.

Victoria authorities announced another 134 cases in the latest 24 hours, down from a daily record 191 cases on Tuesday.

As most of Australia emerges from pandemic restrictions, the virus has resumed spreading at an alarming rate in Victoria’s capital, Melbourne.

Breaches of infection controls at Melbourne hotels where international travelers are required to isolate for 14 days have been blamed for much of the disease spread. The state government last week responded by banning new arrivals at Melbourne Airport for two weeks.

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Morrison said he wanted to reduce the numbers of Australian citizens, permanent residents and foreigners exempt from Australia’s travel ban landing at Australian airports because of the strain on hotel quarantine.

Victoria’s border with New South Wales was closed on Tuesday, but a steady stream of cars continued to pass through police checkpoints with permits granted to travelers to cross for reasons such as work and medical treatment.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian, whose state includes Sydney, warned residents against traveling to the border region. Other states have warned that people from Victoria would be turned back or be forced to spend two weeks in quarantine on arrival.

A newer strain of the coronavirus has a mutation that might make it more infectious, a team of scientists says. Other researchers disagree.

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Australian successes in the early weeks of the pandemic through its suppression strategy were similar to near-neighbor New Zealand, which set out to eradicate the virus and ended community transmission.

New Zealand authorities said Wednesday that they would press charges against a coronavirus patient who escaped quarantine in Auckland and went shopping at a supermarket.

Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the head of managed isolation and quarantine, said the 32-year-old man escaped through a fence at the Stamford Plaza hotel and was gone for just over an hour before returning.

The man later tested positive for the virus. Webb said that the man was a New Zealander who had recently returned from India and that his actions were “completely unacceptable.”

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New Zealand is trying to contain cases at the border by placing new arrivals into a 14-day quarantine at various hotels.


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