As Australian COVID-19 cases surge, state bans "dancing, mingling" at weddings

by Reuters
Friday, 17 July 2020 05:50 GMT

* Victoria state posts 428 new COVID-19 cases, daily record

* Victoria premier urges residents statewide to wear masks

* NSW limits wedding numbers; no dancing, singing, mingling (Adds details, quote from Australian prime minister, chief medical officer, bullet points)

By Colin Packham

SYDNEY, July 17 (Reuters) - Australia's Victoria state on Friday reported a record daily increase in COVID-19 cases 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.

Such is the size of the Victoria outbreak, Australia on Friday posted its second biggest one-day rise in new COVID-19 infections, with 438 cases.

It was largest 24-hour spike since late March, when most cases detected in Australia were people returning from overseas.

The findings stoked expectations Victoria will be forced to implement tougher restrictions on its residents, which in turn will damage Australia's national economy.

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

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.

NO DANCING, NO MINGLING

The surge in COVID-19 cases in Victoria, however, has stirred concerns of a national second wave, with state Premier Daniel Andrews urging all state residents to wear masks when outside.

Previously only those around the state capital, Melbourne were asked to cover their face.

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

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

Neighbouring states have closed internal borders closures 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 150 people, Berejiklian said, and they must remain seated.

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

"DAN-MADE DISASTER"

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.

State Premier Andrews is under mounting pressure, with one of Australia's biggest selling tabloid newspapers running a front page with the headline: "Dan-made disaster."

The surge in COVID-19 cases dents any hope of a quick economic rebound in Australia.

Damaged by national social distancing restrictions imposed in March, Australia is on course for its first recession in nearly three decades, while unemployment has hit a 22-year high, data showed on Thursday.

Australia's hopes to begin a "travel bubble" with neighbouring New Zealand also appear to be delayed. Australia and New Zealand had hoped to open their borders to each other in September.

(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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