A recent spike in the number of COVID-19 cases in the Australian state of Victoria has brought a planned reopening of domestic borders into question, as leaders fear a second wave of infections throughout the country.
Since early June, Victoria has gone from a daily infection rate in the single figures, to 270 new cases recorded on Tuesday, taking the total tally for July alone to over 2,300, reports Xinhua news agency.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said that while state health officials were attempting to bring a number of major clusters under control, including close to 22,000 tests conducted on Monday, the scale of the outbreak had become difficult to manage.
“Obviously with such large numbers it’s a real challenge to get to the bottom of exactly where those people have been, who they’ve spent time with, who are their close contact and to make sure that appropriate public health responses are delivered at that individual and family level,” Andrews said.
Meanwhile, the neighbouring state of New South Wales (NSW) recorded a much smaller increase in new infections, with 13 fresh cases reported on Tuesday, speculated to be the result of arrivals from Victoria.
NSW’s border has been officially closed to Victoria residents since July 8, however according to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian, her state’s proximity to Victoria means that the virus may already have spread across the border prior to the closure coming into place.
A cluster of at least 28 cases linked to a Sydney pub prompted calls for a return to earlier lockdown measures which saw all bars and restaurants temporarily closed to eliminate the risk of spread.
On Tuesday, Berejiklian announced that her state would partially reintroduce some measures to reduce the risk of virus spread at pubs and eateries, including a cap of 300 people at all venues, a 10-person limit on group bookings, and mandatory adoption of the COVIDSafe registry, a scheme intended to track the spread of any potential outbreaks.
She added that Australia had entered a new phase of the pandemic where local transmission was now the most prevalent means of having contracted the disease, as opposed to people arriving from overseas already infected.
With state borders in various stages of reopening, the developments in NSW and Victoria have leaders in other jurisdictions watching carefully, and ready to act to reverse the easing of restrictions if necessary.
On Tuesday, the state of South Australia declared that it would postpone a planned July 20 border reopening with NSW and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT), while Queensland declared several major suburbs of Sydney to be “COVID-19 hotspots” barring anybody who had travelled there from entering.
The move comes less than a week since Queensland reopened its borders to all states, excluding Victoria, in an effort to restart the economy and boost local tourism operators.
Queensland officials revealed that anyone found to have made a false declaration regarding their travel history could face up to six months jail under new laws intended to be introduced by the government.