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Coronavirus: Australia suffers deadliest day as cases rise

State of Victoria reports record-high 21 deaths and 410 new cases in past 24 hours

SYDNEY: Australia recorded its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic yesterday and the biggest daily rise in infections in three days, denting hopes that a second wave gripping the state of Victoria may be stabilising.

Victoria reported 21 deaths - two more than the previous deadliest days earlier this week - and 410 new cases in the past 24 hours, ending a run of three consecutive days with new infections below 400.

A cluster of infections in Melbourne, the Victorian capital and Australia's second largest city, forced the authorities last week to impose a night curfew, tighten restrictions on people's daily movements and order large parts of the state economy to close.

Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said that while the number of cases was trending down, the impact of the strict new lockdown measures has yet to show up in the case numbers.

"We all know that a week is not the life cycle of this virus... and our experts remain firm in the view that this will drive the numbers down," he said.

Only Victoria and the country's most populous state, New South Wales, reported fresh cases yesterday, with a total of 428 infections detected in the past 24 hours.

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said businesses could face additional restrictions to prevent further clusters developing.

"We've given certainly a grace period for businesses, for organisations, for different establishments to step up their Covid safe plans, and if they don't do that, we will have to go a step further," Ms Berejiklian said at a media briefing.

Australia has reported just over 22,000 infections and 352 deaths from the virus.

Meanwhile, New Zealand officials are investigating the possibility that its first Covid-19 cases in more than three months were imported by freight, as the country's biggest city plunged back into lockdown yesterday.

The discovery of four infected family members in Auckland led Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern to swiftly reimpose tight restrictions in the city and social distancing measures across the entire country.

The source of the outbreak has baffled health officials, who said they were confident there was no local transmission of the virus for 102 days.

"We are working hard to put together pieces of the puzzle on how this family got infected," said director-general of health Ashley Bloomfield.

POTENTIAL

Investigations were zeroing in on the potential that the virus was imported by freight. Dr Bloomfield said surface testing was underway at an Auckland cool store where a man from the infected family worked.

"We know the virus can survive within refrigerated environments for quite some time," Dr Bloomfield said during a televised media conference.

The New Zealand unit of US-based Americold Realty Trust, a refrigerated storage specialist with operations in the US, Canada, Argentina and Australia, identified itself as the owner of the cool store.

Americold NZ managing director Richard Winnall told the NZ Herald newspaper the infected man had been on sick leave for several days and all employees had been sent home for tests. - REUTERS

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