SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s most populous states will impose harsher restrictions on movement if a COVID-19 outbreak is not quickly bought under control, state premiers said on Wednesday.
Australia has been heralded as a global leader in containing COVID-19, its total death toll lower than what Florida reported on Tuesday alone. Even so, it has seen a surge in new cases, culminating with 10 days of triple-digit gains as of Wednesday.
Victoria state reported another 238 cases in the past 24 hours, even after reimposing a lockdown last week on about five million people in Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city.
Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews singled out a minority of people for defying lockdown orders – which require people to stay home except for a small number of permissible activities – warning restrictions could be extended.
“If, however, people do not do the right thing then we will have to move to additional restrictions being put in place and potentially prolong … these restrictions,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
More than 500 people have been fined for not abiding by the lockdown, including two men caught driving around to play the Pokemon GO video game, Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent said.
Nationally, Australia has now recorded about 10,500 cases, while the death toll rose to 111 on Wednesday after a woman in her 90s died from the virus.
In New South Wales, which has seen several dozen COVID-19 cases in the past week, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the state will likely need new restrictions. She ruled out a blanket lockdown, however, citing the economic damage.
Australia’s remote Northern Territory said it would keep its borders closed to New South Wales and Victoria.
The possibility of new restrictions is a blow to Australia’s hopes of a speedy economic recovery as curbs implemented to slow the spread of COVID-19 push the country to its first recession in nearly three decades.
The Westpac-Melbourne Institute index of consumer sentiment fell 6.1% in July from June, when it had bounced 6.3%. Victoria’s sentiment index alone dived 10.4%.
The Australian Rules Football league said it would move all 10 teams based in Victoria to northeastern Queensland, where the virus has nearly been eliminated, to keep the season alive.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Stephen Coates)