By Lidia Kelly
MELBOURNE, March 28 (Reuters) - Australian troops will begin on Saturday taking citizens returning from overseas to compulsory quarantine places to prevent spread of the coronavirus, as Victoria officials closed beaches on a warm autumn day amid public resistance, warning of fines.
The compulsory self-isolation for travellers in hotels and other lodgings across Australia comes as the country gradually tightens its social distancing rules, which have so far confused many.
With temperatures reaching 28 Celsius (82F) on Friday, hundreds of people in the state of Victoria defied pleas to stay home and flocked the beaches, forcing the police to close them on Saturday.
While Australia shut down mass gathering venues, closed many businesses and introduced the mandatory 14-day quarantine for those returning from abroad, there is no national order to stay home, although the government has said that those who can must stay inside.
"If you don't, you'll do nothing but spread the virus and that will kill people," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told journalists at a televised briefing. "Unless we work together, be responsible, do the smart and decent thing and the lawful thing, we will finish up with our health system overrun and people dying."
Victoria, where about a quarter of Australia's 25.5-million population lives, saw its largest daily increase of coronavirus cases of 111 on Saturday, bringing the total in the state to 685 cases. As of late Friday, there were 3,166 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Australia, with 13 deaths related to the virus.
Victoria Police Minister Lisa Neville said those flouting coronavirus restrictions could face on-the-spot fines of more than A$1,600 ($986.40), while businesses could be penalised more than $10,000 if they do not adhere to strict social distancing and quarantining requirements.
New South Wales, where about a third of Australians live, introduced similar fines earlier this week.
"If you need to go for a walk, exercise, great, but this is not about spending a day at the beach," Neville said. ($1 = 1.6221 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Leslie Adler)
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