SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia reported its first COVID-19 death in more than a month on Wednesday, as concerns about a second wave of infections saw thousands of people queue, sometimes for hours, to be tested for the virus.
A man in his eighties died in Victoria state, where 20 new cases were reported overnight, Victoria Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told reporters in Melbourne.
Australia has so far escaped a high number of casualties from the new coronavirus, with just over 7,500 infections and 103 deaths, aided by strict lockdown measures and social distancing rules.
Fears of a second wave stem from an upswing in new cases in Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, where authorities are trying to contain outbreaks in half a dozen Melbourne suburbs.
State Premier Daniel Andrews has asked for military personnel to help operate pop-up test centres and enforce a 14-day quarantine requirement for anyone coming from overseas, a spokeswoman said.
After enforcing lockdown restrictions earlier in its coronavirus outbreak compared to most other countries, Australia began to ease those curbs last month to revive its economy as infection rates has slowed significantly.
The lockdown in Victoria was being lifted more slowly, but authorities there believe the increase in new cases stemmed from family get-togethers attended by people with mild symptoms.
Over the weekend, Victoria extended its state of emergency for another month and reimposed restrictions on gatherings, as authorities believe many of the new cases stem can be traced to family get-togethers attended by people with mild symptoms.
“There were some that may have believed that we were going to be completely out of the woods. That has never been the case,” Australia’s Minister for Health Greg Hunt told reporters in Melbourne. “It can literally take one person who doesn’t do the right thing.”
Alarmed by the rise in new infections, thousands of people have flocked to testing centres, where waiting times of up to four hours have been reported. Police were forced to shut one drive-by clinic in Melbourne 20 minutes after it opened as it was unable to cope with the throng.
Still, authorities say anyone who wants a test will get one.
The renewed scare has also sparked a rush to supermarkets in Victoria, where two of the biggest chains, Woolworths Group and Coles, have imposed fresh limits how much customers can buy for specific goods, including toilet paper, hand sanitiser, flour, sugar, pasta, long-life milk, eggs and rice.
“While we have healthy stock levels to draw on, we’re taking this precautionary step to help prevent excessive buying and support appropriate social distancing in our Victorian stores,” said Claire Peters, managing director of Woolworths’ supermarkets division.
Despite the spike in cases in Victoria, neighbouring New South Wales (NSW) said it would not close the border between the states, though NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian urged people to o avoid travelling to Victoria.
Australian states and territories are currently committed to removing the bulk of the social distancing restrictions by the end of July.
Additional reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Michael Perry, Gerry Doyle and Simon Cameron-Moore