Australia back on COVID-19 alert as cases jump in southern state

Premier of South Australia says the state is in a ‘dangerous situation’ amid an outbreak linked to a quarantine hotel.

People walk past a cafe after COVID-19 restrictions were eased for the state of Victoria, in Melbourne, Australia, October 28, 2020 [File: Sandra Sanders/Reuters]

The Australian state of South Australia has reported 14 new coronavirus cases, a dramatic increase from the previous day, prompting other states to tighten internal borders amid concerns of a new virus hot spot.

South Australia ended a months-long streak of no COVID-19 infections on Sunday, reporting three locally-acquired coronavirus cases after a worker from a quarantine hotel infected family members, the authorities said.

By Monday the number in the state had jumped to 17, prompting several other states to impose new border restrictions amid fears that an outbreak in the state that has so far avoided the brunt of the pandemic could spread further afield.

“It is a very dangerous situation that we’re in here in South Australia at the moment, and it’s really going to require the cooperation of every single citizen for us to get on top of this,” state premier Steven Marshall told local radio 5AA on Monday.

Since the neighbouring state of Victoria came out of a lengthy lockdown earlier this month, Australia has had several days of no new coronavirus infections.

The country has only recorded near 28,000 coronavirus infections and just over 900 deaths due to strict measures such as international and state border closures, lockdowns, mandatory social distancing and widespread testing and tracing.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the new infections in South Australia were “a reminder; even after a lockdown, even after all this time, the virus hasn’t gone anywhere”.

Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said he was offering a national contact-tracing system and defence force personnel to help South Australia stop the virus from spreading, and that “if more is required, more will be provided”.

Western Australia, which borders South Australia, ordered new arrivals from the state to undertake mandatory tests and self-quarantine for 14 days; the island state of Tasmania ordered immediate self-quarantine for people who had arrived from South Australia in the past week and the Northern Territory ordered people arriving from the state to enter supervised quarantine.

Local media reported passengers arriving from South Australia being in tears when told they would have to go into 14-day quarantine when touching down in Western Australia on Monday morning.

The premier of Queensland state tweeted that “anyone about to leave Adelaide should be advised we are assessing the COVID-19 outbreak and may place restrictions on travel, including mandatory quarantine on arrivals”.

The states of New South Wales (NSW) and Victoria, home to more than half the Australian population, meanwhile did not announce changes to internal border controls.

“I don’t think it is a sensible approach, moving forward, to shut your borders every time there is an outbreak,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

“A number like that, whilst very concerning for a state the size of South Australia, because of the circumstance of this particular case, our health authorities don’t believe we need to change any of our policy settings.”

Australia meanwhile said it would spend 1 billion Australian dollars ($726.3m) underwriting the construction of a vaccine manufacturing plant under a deal with a unit of biomedical giant CSL Ltd, guaranteeing a supply of flu shots and antivenins.

Source: News Agencies