MELBOURNE, Australia (AP) — Australia recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic Monday as the government urged hot spot Victoria state to announce its plans to lift a lockdown on the country’s second-largest city.
Victoria’s health department reported 41 deaths from COVID-19 and 73 new infections in the latest 24-hour period. While the deaths were a state and national high, the tally of new infections was Victoria’s lowest since 67 new cases were recorded on June 30 in the early weeks of the second wave of the pandemic, which has primarily been concentrated in the state capital, Melbourne.
A six-week lockdown in the city is due to be relaxed on Sept. 13. But the state government has not said how it will be relaxed or given any assurances that it won’t be extended.
Victoria has recorded more than 19,000 infections with the coronavirus, almost 80% of Australia’s more than 25,000 cases, according to a tally from Johns Hopkins University. The state also accounts for the vast majority of Australia’s more than 650 deaths.
Australia’s Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said on Monday he disagreed with the Victorian government that it was too early to announce plans to reopen the economy.
“Business is very frustrated because they haven’t been told when can they open up, when can people get back to work,” Frydenberg told Nine Network television.
Frydenberg pointed to a Treasury Department forecast that in the next three months more people in Victoria will be receiving pandemic employment subsidies than from the rest of Australia combined. Australia pays employers an allowance known as Job Keeper to continue paying staff who have no work to do.
Consumer spending had fallen 30% in Victoria due to the lockdown while spending had declined by only 3% across the rest of Australia.
In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:
— New Zealand lifted a lockdown in the city of Auckland on Monday and is mandating masks on public transport. The nation’s largest city had been in a lockdown for more than two weeks after an outbreak of the coronavirus was discovered earlier this month, following more than three months without any community transmission. Health Minister Chris Hipkins said it was safe to reopen Auckland because all the recent infections have been linked to the same cluster through contact tracing. “We’re already seeing signs of the city getting back to normal,” he said. Anecdotally, about 90% of public transport passengers in Auckland have been wearing masks, Hipkins added. New Zealand’s nine new infections reported Monday included four in recently returned travelers who are in quarantine.
— Hong Kong authorities say nearly half a million people have registered for a free universal coronavirus testing program that is due to begin Tuesday. Residents registering online have already booked out 80 testing sites in gymnasiums and community centers for the initial day of the program, according to the government’s website. Hong Kong launched the testing effort to track down paths of infection that have consistently added to case numbers despite strict social distancing and other measures imposed on the densely populated semi-autonomous Chinese city of 7.5 million. All who wish to be tested can do so at no cost. Hong Kong has counted more than 4,800 cases and 88 deaths.
— South Korea has counted its 18th straight day of triple-digit daily jumps in coronavirus cases as its health minister warned about an increase in transmissions gone untraced and infections among senior citizens. Of the 248 new cases reported Monday, the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said 187 were from the Seoul metropolitan area. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo said epidemiological workers are having more difficulty tracking transmissions and predicting infection routes, saying they haven’t been able to trace the infection source of more than 20% of the cases found in the past two weeks. Officials also say many of those who tested positive this month were 60 years or older, an age group more likely to experience serious health complications.