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Australia's Victoria state COVID-19 outbreak eases

Australia's Victoria state COVID-19 outbreak eases

A woman walks past an empty cafe during morning commute hours on the first day of a seven-day lockdown in Melbourne, Australia on May 28, 2021. (Photo: Reuters/Sandra Sanders)

SYDNEY: Australia's Victoria state reported just three new COVID-19 cases on Thursday (Jun 3), its lowest single-day rise in more than a week, a day after a snap lockdown in the state capital of Melbourne was extended for another week.

The extended lockdown will run until Jun 10 as health officials scramble to contain the latest outbreak from a virus variant first detected in India, which they say is highly contagious.

The lockdown is the fourth in Melbourne since the pandemic began.

Though Victoria's daily cases have remained in the single digits for a week, officials fear even minimal contact could help spread the variant. The three cases came from record daily tests of more than 57,500 people, bringing the total number of infections in the outbreak to 61.

The total was revised down from 63 as two cases were false positives, the government said.

Under mounting pressure and with an election likely within a year, Australia's Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Thursday announced a plan to pay up to A$500 (US$387) a week to people in lockdown.

Morrison said the payments would be given to people over 17 years old who cannot work from home and who have less than A$10,000 in liquid assets.

READ: New Zealand hosts Australia's prime minister in first meeting since COVID-19 outbreak

Australia introduced a wage subsidy scheme at the start of the pandemic, but the scheme ended in March and the government had resisted calls for a temporary reintroduction of the measure.

Snap lockdowns, regional border curbs and tough social distancing rules have largely helped Australia keep its COVID-19 figures relatively low, at 30,130 cases and 910 deaths.

But Morrison is being criticised for a slow vaccine roll and his refusal to help state government's build specific COVID-19 quarantine centres, instead of relying on hotel quarantine where leaks have spread the virus.

Melbourne's latest outbreak has been traced back to a returned overseas traveller who left hotel quarantine in the state of South Australia after testing negative, but subsequently tested positive in Melbourne.

In Victoria's latest lockdown, rules in regions outside Melbourne will be eased from Thursday night due to the absence of cases there, although curbs on house gatherings will remain and masks must be worn indoors.

READ: COVID-19: Australian court upholds ban on most international travel

Melbourne's 5 million residents, however, will only be allowed to step outside their homes for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping, exercise or to get COVID-19 vaccination until the end of next week.

"We do not do this because we want to, we do not do this because it is a choice. We do this because we have to do," Victoria state Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne.

New South Wales state, which shares a border with Victoria, is on alert after an infected traveller from Melbourne visited some popular tourist spots in the state's south about two weeks ago, sending authorities rushing to track close contacts. Nearly a dozen locations have been listed as hotspots.

READ: Australia urges over-50s to get jabbed as COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy grows

Australia's vaccine rollout has been slow partly due to a lack of urgency in the community and due to concern about rare instances of blood clots from the AstraZeneca vaccine.

The AstraZeneca vaccine is only being given to people aged 50 and older in Australia. The government reported on Thursday there were eight new confirmed or probable cases involving serious blood clots with a low blood platelet count, taking the total count to 41 confirmed or probable cases. 

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Source: Reuters/ad

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