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Victoria state premier defends tough lockdown of nine housing towers

This article is more than 12 months old

Premier of Australia's Victoria state defends restrictions as coronavirus cases continue to rise

MELBOURNE: The premier of Australia's second-most populous state, Victoria, yesterday defended his decision to put nine public housing towers in a complete lockdown as coronavirus cases continue to rise in Melbourne's suburbs.

The state recorded 74 new cases yesterday, after Saturday's 108 cases prompted Premier Daniel Andrews to order about 3,000 people not to leave their homes for at least five days and to deploy police to guard the buildings.

"This is not going to be a pleasant experience for those residents, but I have a message for those residents: this is not about punishment but protection," Mr Andrews said in a televised conference.

Promising two weeks of free rent and hardship payments to the residents, Mr Andrews said public health workers would test every resident of the buildings, except those who have previously tested positive.

The communal nature of the facilities, which house people on low incomes, has "genuinely explosive potential for the spread of the virus," said Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

In addition to the complete lockdown orders, more than 30 Melbourne suburbs are also under strict social-distancing orders, but people there can leave their houses to go to work, school or to buy groceries.

Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, reported 14 new coronavirus cases yesterday, all returning travellers from overseas.

Overall, Australia has just over 8,400 cases and 104 deaths so far.

In a separate development, the World Health Organisation (WHO) reported a record increase in global coronavirus cases on Saturday, with the total rising by 212,326 in 24 hours.

The biggest increases were from the US, Brazil and India, according to a daily report.

The previous WHO record for new cases was 189,077 on June 28.

Fatalities were at about 5,000 a day.

Global coronavirus cases exceeded 11 million on Friday, according to a Reuters tally.

WHO has also updated its account of the early stages of the Covid-19 crisis to say it was alerted by its own office in China, and not by China itself, to the first pneumonia cases in Wuhan.

A new chronology of events published this week indicates that it was the WHO office in China that on Dec 31 notified its regional point of contact of a case of "viral pneumonia" after having found a declaration for the media on a Wuhan health commission website on the issue.

The same day, WHO's epidemic information service picked up another news report transmitted by the international epidemiological surveillance network ProMed - based in the US - about the same group of cases of pneumonia from unknown causes in Wuhan.

WHO then asked the Chinese authorities on two occasions, on Jan 1 and Jan 2, for information about these cases, which they provided on Jan 3.

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