MELBOURNE: Australia will seal off the state of Victoria from the rest of the country for an indefinite period as authorities announced unprecedented measures to tackle a worrying surge in coronavirus cases.
The decision marks the first time the border with neighbouring New South Wales has been shut in 100 years – officials last blocked movement between the two states in 1919 during the Spanish flu pandemic.
The border between Australia’s two most populous states – Victoria and New South Wales – will be closed from midnight Tuesday, officials from both states said. The plans to reopen Victoria’s border with South Australia have already been put on ice.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews described the decision to close off the state as “the smart call, the right call at this time, given the significant challenges we face in containing this virus”.
After weeks of easing virus restrictions, Melbourne has seen a huge spike in community transmission, leading health officials to effectively shut off some neighbourhoods to the rest of the city until the end of July.
Sixteen of the new cases were detected in nine high-rise public housing towers, where 3,000 residents were locked in their homes on Saturday in Australia’s strictest COVID-19 response to date.
There have been just 53 cases recorded in the buildings – which are home to a large number of vulnerable migrants – but there are concerns the virus could spread rapidly.
Community leaders have raised concerns about the targeted nature of the “hard lockdown”, which saw hundreds of police officers deployed with almost no warning that reportedly left some residents unable to stock up on essentials.
Andrews said food has been delivered to families while mental health and other medical support was being provided as officials sought to test every resident over the coming days.
Australia has recorded more than 8,500 cases of COVID-19 and 105 deaths from the virus. The bulk of new daily cases are now being detected in Melbourne, while most other regions are enjoying relaxed restrictions after largely curbing the virus spread.