July 24, 2020 / 4:10 AM / 17 days ago

UPDATE 2-Australia's Tasmania opens travel bubble for COVID-free states

* Seven deaths, 300 new cases in Victoria

* Tasmania opens to WA, SA, NT tourists from next month

* NSW tightens restrictions on social distancing

* Class action filed against Carnival’s Ruby Princess (Recasts with details about Tasmania’s travel bubble; adds bullet points)

By Melanie Burton

MELBOURNE, July 24 (Reuters) - Australia’s southern island state of Tasmania will next month begin accepting tourists from other areas of the country that have seen significant periods with no fresh cases of coronavirus, state officials said on Friday.

Tasmania, which has not recorded a case of community transmission in 77 days, will accept tourists from Western Australia and South Australia states, as well as the Northern Territory - none of which have recorded community transmission in more than 90 days.

The new policy which begins on Aug. 7 includes stricter testing at airports and a review of travel from other states including New South Wales and Queensland to be completed next month.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein said travel won’t resume in the short term from the country’s second most populous state of Victoria, which has been battling a surge in coronavirus cases to more than 7,400 as of Friday,

“I can’t see Victoria being opened up to Tasmania any time in the near future,” Gutwein told a media conference.

Australia has so far escaped the high COVID-19 casualty numbers of other nations, with just over 13,300 infections and 139 deaths from the virus as of Friday but recent flare ups in its two most populous states have worried officials.

A cluster of infections in Melbourne, Victoria’s largest city, prompted the government to enforce a six-week partial lockdown and make face masks mandatory for its residents or risk a A$200 ($143) fine.

The state will deploy Australian Defence Force personnel to the homes of people who have tested positive to the virus but who have not answered telephone calls, in order to kick start the contact tracing process, Victoria’s premier said on Friday.

“This is about going that extra step to make sure that we cannot just call but we can connect... get that interview done and then begin the process of tracing contacts,” Daniel Andrews told a regular media conference.

“If you were door knocked and you were not found at home...that would almost certainly lead to you being fined.”

The state recorded seven deaths since Thursday, the highest daily toll for the nation since the pandemic began.

At least five of the deaths were linked to aged care homes, of which more than 40 have recorded outbreaks. Statewide, 300 new infections were found, dropping from a record of 484 on Wednesday.

NSW TIGHTENS RESTRICTIONS

In the most populous state of New South Wales, restrictions were reintroduced on Friday after several clusters emerged, including dozens of cases stemming from a Thai restaurant. New cases in the state fell to seven overnight, from several days in the teens.

Group bookings at restaurants, cafes and clubs will be limited to 10 people and patrons inside a venue will be capped to 300.

Wedding and corporate events will be limited to 150 people with strict social distancing rules including a ban on singing, dancing and mingling, while only 100 can attend funerals and places of worship.

Australia’s National Cabinet met on Friday and laid out new measures to combat the virus including tougher restrictions on truck drivers transporting goods between states.

Meanwhile, a law firm said it has filed a class action in an Australian court against Carnival Corp’s Ruby Princess cruise ship alleging mishandling of a coronavirus outbreak on board the ship.

The cruise ship has also become part of a homicide investigation in Australia as one of the country’s deadliest virus infection sources.

“It is not our intention to respond to the assertions of class action lawyers,” a Carnival Corp spokesman said in an emailed statement. (Reporting by Renju Jose in Sydney and Melanie Burton in Melbourne; Editing by Lincoln Feast.)

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