CANBERRA – Australia's Victoria state on Friday reported a new daily record of 288 coronavirus cases as well as a record number of tests, more than 37,500.
Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the number of citizens and permanent residents allowed to return to Australia each week will be reduced by more than 4,000 from next week.
Sydney, Australia’s largest city, has been carrying a disproportionate burden of hotel quarantines that are currently paid for by the New South Wales state government.
Victoria, to the south, has banned international arrivals after breaches of hotel quarantine in Melbourne were blamed for Australia’s only widespread transmissions of COVID-19.
Vicotoria Chief Health Officer Breet Sutton said “certainly, 288 new cases today is a pretty ugly number.” But he added, “Our numbers are the numbers that the U.S. gets every 10 minutes. We are still in a fortunate position and we have gone to a lockdown at this juncture in order not to have those kind of pressures manifest in our system.”
Melbourne went into lockdown again on Wednesday night for six weeks.
Victoria has become the first state to recommend that its residents wear masks if they can’t maintain 1.5 meters (5 feet) of social distancing, such as when they’re on public transport or in supermarkets.
Queensland, to the north, charges travelers 2,800 Australian dollars ($1,900) for their two weeks in hotel quarantine, making Sydney are more attractive destination for Queenslanders to land from overseas.
Morrison said other states are moving to charge for hotel quarantine as well, given that Australia has been urging citizens for weeks to return as soon as possible. Outside Victoria, most of Australia’s COVID-19 cases have been detected in hotel quarantines.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— India’s coronavirus caseload is nearing 800,000 with the biggest spike of 26,506 cases reported in the past 24 hours, prompting some states to go back to a stringent lockdown in high-risk areas. The newly confirmed cases took the national total to 793,802. The Health Ministry on Friday also reported another 475 deaths, taking total fatalities to 21,604. Eastern Bihar state reimposed a full lockdown in its capital, Patna, and four other districts for a week beginning Friday. India’s most populous state, Uttar Pradesh, with nearly 230 million people, also announced a weekend lockdown. The two states account for hundreds of thousands of migrant workers who returned to their homes after becoming jobless in late March.
— Tokyo has found 243 new cases of the coronavirus, surpassing 200 for a second day in a row and setting a new record. Gov. Yuriko Koike said recent spikes are largely due to expanded testing, which has more than tripled from mid-April. Koike did acknowledge concerns raised by experts over a large proportion of untraceable cases, a sign of infections spreading widely in the community. She said most of the cases involve young people who work or visit nightlife districts, and that officials are discussing measures targeting the specific population and establishments. Prime Minister Shinzo Abe’s government has been reluctant to take additional measures requiring business closures. A panel of experts on Tokyo’s coronavirus task force cautioned that infections will likely spread to older people and advised city officials to promptly increase hospital capacity. Tokyo now has 7,515 cases, compared to more than 20,200 nationwide.
— South Korea has reported 45 new cases of the coronavirus as health authorities scramble to stem infections in major cities across the country. The figures bring the national caseload to 13,338, including 288 deaths. Twenty-three of the new cases came from the Seoul metropolitan area, which has been at the center of a virus resurgence since late May. Infections were also reported in other major cities such as Gwangju and Daejeon. Health authorities say they are stuck in a difficult game of “whack-a-mole” with new clusters popping up in various places — including churches, restaurants, nightspots and office buildings.
— China on Friday reported four newly confirmed cases of the coronavirus, all of them brought from overseas. No new deaths were reported and 342 people remain in treatment. Another 121 people are in isolation and being monitored as suspected cases or for testing positive for the virus without showing any symptoms. China has reported 4,634 deaths from COVID-19 among 83,585 cases since the virus was first detected late last year in the central city of Wuhan.
— A second man in New Zealand this week is facing charges for escaping from a hotel where he was being held in quarantine, this time allegedly to buy alcohol. Air Commodore Darryn Webb, head of managed isolation and quarantine, said the man cut through fence ties at the Distinction Hotel in Hamilton on Thursday and was gone for about 30 minutes, visiting a nearby liquor store before returning. The man, identified by local media as Martin McVicar, made his first court appearance Friday and wasn’t required to enter a plea. Earlier this week, another man who recently returned from India escaped from his Auckland hotel and allegedly went shopping at a supermarket. He later tested positive for the virus. New Zealand has eliminated community transmission of the virus and is trying to contain cases at the border by placing new arrivals into a 14-day quarantine at various hotels.
— Sri Lanka has found 196 more COVID-19 cases from a rehabilitation center for drug addicts, taking the number of infections there to 252. Authorities reported 56 cases on Thursday after a prisoner who had spent time at the center tested positive for the virus. None of the other prisoners who associated him has tested positive. Sri Lanka had contained community spread of the virus over the past two months, however, new cases in the past two days are raising fears of a resurgence of the disease. Sri Lanka has reported 2,350 confirmed cases with 11 deaths.
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