MELBOURNE: Australia's worst-hit state of Victoria reported 15 coronavirus deaths on Wednesday (Aug 5), the majority linked to elderly care homes, making it the country's deadliest day of the pandemic to date.
An outbreak in Melbourne, Australia's second-biggest city and the capital of Victoria, has seen hundreds of new cases recorded daily in recent weeks, including 725 on Wednesday.
The epidemic surge continued even though Melbourne has been under a stay-at-home lockdown for nearly a month.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told a press conference that the latest fatalities included one man in his 30s and 12 other deaths linked to care homes for the elderly.
The virus has spread rapidly through nursing homes in the city, with almost 1,500 active infections now linked to the facilities.
Authorities imposed an overnight curfew in Melbourne from Monday, have closed non-essential businesses and ordered mandatory mask-wearing as authorities try to bring the outbreak under control.
"The notion of more than 700 cases is not sustainable. We need to drive the numbers down and this strategy is designed to do just that," Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
Andrews said further restrictions would include shutting most childcare centres and expanding a ban on elective surgery to the whole state to free up medical resources for coronavirus cases.
All but the most urgent elective surgeries would now be postponed "until further notice" to ease the strain on hospitals, he said.
"The sickest patients must get treated quickest," Andrews added. "This is a regrettable decision but it is very important one in order to preserve sufficient capacity in our entire health system."
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Australian Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd urged Victoria residents to comply with the state's tight restrictions.
"I hope it won't be the case, but it may be, that the numbers will go even higher over the coming days before they start to come down as a result of the impact of the restrictions," Kidd told reporters in Canberra.
The tighter lockdown will delay an independent inquiry into Victoria's hotel quarantine programme. Hearings which were due to begin on Thursday will start on Aug 17, with the final report now due on Nov 6.
State health officials believe the mingling of security guards with infected travellers in hotel quarantine was the main source of the resurgence of the virus in Melbourne over the past two months.
Australia has now recorded more than 19,000 cases of coronavirus and 247 deaths from the virus.
Victoria has been effectively sealed off from the rest of the country, with residents banned from visiting and leaving except in limited circumstances.
Other states and territories are continuing to detect few or no new daily cases.