SYDNEY: Australia's second most-populous state, Victoria, reported its biggest jump in coronavirus cases since late March on Saturday (Jul 4), forcing it to expand stay-at-home orders to two more suburbs and sending nine public housing towers in a complete lockdown.
The southeastern state recorded 108 new cases on Saturday, up from 66 on Friday and more than 70 new cases in each of the previous four days, forcing authorities to reimpose lockdowns in more than 30 suburbs earlier in the week.
"These numbers are a very real concern to all of us," Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.
The spike in Victoria is being closely watched as the rest of the country has reined in the virus that causes COVID-19.
3,000 RESIDENTS UNDER LOCKDOWN
Thousands of residents in several high-rise apartments in Melbourne went into lockdown for at least five days from Saturday.
Hundreds of police were also deployed to enforce the lockdown of the nine public housing towers.
"There are many, many vulnerable people who live in these towers," said Andrews.
"Some of them will be returning home in the latter part of today, knowing that they will not be able to leave their home for a further five days."
The immediate lockdown in Melbourne's north would be a "massive logistical task" that includes supplying food to around 3,000 residents and deploying at least 500 police officers per shift, he added.
Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Annaliese van Diemen said a number of cases had been detected in the towers, possibly exposing a highly vulnerable community with underlying health conditions.
"The first priority here is to find every case in those towers, so that we don't have an explosion of infections," van Diemen said.
LOCKDOWNS "DIFFICULT BUT IMPORTANT"
The lockdowns were a "difficult but important step" deputy chief medical officer Paul Kelly said, ahead of an emergency meeting of top health officials on Saturday evening.
"That rising number of active cases in Victoria is the major concern at the moment," Kelly told reporters in Canberra.
Twenty-five thousand tests were carried out in Victoria in 24 hours as officials increased efforts to trace, track and ultimately check the spread of the disease, Kelly said.
Australia's most populated state, New South Wales, reported six new coronavirus cases on Saturday, five of them returning travellers from overseas.
The sixth is a past infection and not an active case, according to health officials. The state reported no new cases on Friday.
Overall, Australia has weathered the coronavirus pandemic much better than most other nations, with just over 8,300 cases and 104 deaths so far.