Australia suffers 'disturbing' surge in COVID-19 figures


Australia's Victoria state reported a record daily increase in COVID-19 cases on Friday while neighbouring New South Wales said it was banning dancing, singing and mingling at weddings as authorities struggle to contain a new wave of infections.

Victoria, which has forced nearly 5 million people in the country's second most populous state into a partial lockdown for more than a week, said it has found 428 new COVID-19 cases in the last 24 hours, most from community transmission.

The Victoria outbreak led to Australia posting its second biggest one-day rise in new COVID-19 infections, with 438 cases on Friday. It was largest 24-hour spike since late March, when most cases detected in Australia were people returning from overseas.

"These are large numbers today, that is disturbing," Australia's acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told reporters in Canberra before striking a more upbeat note.

"Be patient... we are starting to get on top of the situation in Victoria."

The surge in new cases reinforced expectations that Victoria will implement tougher restrictions on residents.

"We are in the fight of our lives," Victoria state's Minister for Health Jenny Mikakos told reporters in Melbourne.

The state has already extended a ban on international arrivals by three weeks to at least August 8, Melbourne Airport said.

Stricter restrictions would inevitably crimp economic activity in a country facing its first recession in nearly three decades. Data released on Thursday showed unemployment at a 22-year high.

Australia has recorded just over 11,000 cases of COVID-19.

The death toll rose to 116 after the death of three people in Victoria on Friday, still well below many other countries.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said his government will provide any assistance needed, as he urged against panic.

"We would not have expected to see the results of the lockdown measures put in place in Victoria as yet," Morrison told reporters.

Australia and New Zealand had hoped to open their borders to each other in September, but the start of any "travel bubble" appears to be delayed.

Amid fears of a national second wave, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews urged residents to wear masks when outside, having previously only asked those around Melbourne, the state capital, to cover their face.

Victoria's neighbours have closed inter-state borders and renewed social distancing restrictions.

New South Wales (NSW), Australia's most populous state, said it has found eight cases of COVID-19 in the last 24 hours, mostly from community transmissions believed to have emanated from Victoria.

NSW state Premier Gladys Berejiklian said new restrictions will be imposed from next week.

Funerals and places of worship will be allowed no more than 100 people. Venues must also ensure they have 4 square metres of space per patron.

Weddings in the state will be capped at 150 people, Berejiklian said, and they must remain seated.

"No dancing, no singing, no mingling," Berejiklian told reporters in Sydney.

Less than a month ago, Australia was widely heralded as a global leader in combating COVID-19.

But security lapses in Victoria led to people returning from overseas spreading the virus, prompting an inquiry into how the state went from the brink of eradicating the virus to soaring infection numbers.

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