Australia isolates virus-prone state, Serbs oppose lockdown
CANBERRA, Australia (AP) — Australia isolated the state of Victoria on Wednesday in a bid to contain the worsening spread of the coronavirus as the city of Melbourne prepared for its second lockdown, an example of a resurgent disease in places that initially succeeded in taming it.
Melbourne’s failure to curb the virus in the past three weeks is a starkly different pandemic experience to other parts of the country that have been reporting single-digit daily counts of infections if any.
In Serbia, chaos erupted as thousands of protesters fought running battles with police and tried to storm the parliament building in Belgrade on Tuesday after the president announced that a coronavirus lockdown will be reintroduced in the Balkan country.
President Aleksandar Vucic called the virus situation in Belgrade “alarming” and “critical” as the city’s hospitals neared their capacity limits after health officials reported the highest single-day death toll of 13 amid 299 new COVID-19 cases.
Many blame the autocratic Serbian leader for lifting the previous lockdown measures just so he would cement his grip on power after parliamentary elections. He has denied those claims.
In China, where the pandemic appeared late last year, only seven new cases were confirmed on Wednesday, all of them brought from outside the country. But South Korea reported 63 additional cases among a population twice the size of Australia’s. South Korean authorities are scrambling to stem transmissions tied to places such as churches, temples, restaurants and workplaces.
Pakistan’s daily infection rate dropped below 3,000 for the second straight day. Medical professionals are urging caution, noting testing has been cut by almost one third. Still some experts, particularly in the eastern city of Lahore, the capital of Pakistan’s Punjab province where nearly 60% of the country’s 220 million people live, are suggesting the virus may have peaked in June.
Victoria authorities announced another 134 coronavirus cases in the latest 24 hours, down from a daily record 191 cases on Tuesday.
The rest of Australia recorded 13 cases including three Melbourne-linked infections in the national capital Canberra. The Canberra infections are the first recorded there in almost a month.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said the entire nation was behind Melbourne as it locked down for six weeks from Wednesday night.
“We’re all Melburnians now when it comes to the challenges we face,” Morrison said. “We’re all Victorians now because we’re all Australians and that’s where the challenge is right now."
The Victoria border with New South Wales closed on Tuesday, but a steady stream of cars continued to pass through police checkpoints with permits granted to travelers to cross for reasons such as work and medical treatment.
New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian warned her citizens against traveling to the border region. She foreshadowed potential restrictions on travel within Australia’s most populous state to further reduce the risk of Melbourne virus reaching Sydney.
Other states have warned that people from Victoria would be turned back or be forced to spend two weeks in quarantine on arrival.
Australian successes in the early weeks of the pandemic through its suppression strategy were similar to near-neighbor New Zealand, which set out to eradicate the virus and ended community transmission.
New Zealand authorities said Wednesday they will press charges against a coronavirus patient who escaped quarantine in Auckland and went shopping at a supermarket.
Air Commodore Darryn Webb, the head of managed isolation and quarantine, said the 32-year-old man escaped through a fence at the Stamford Plaza hotel and was gone for just over an hour before returning.
The man later tested positive for the virus. Webb said the man was a New Zealander who recently returned from India and his actions were “completely unacceptable.”
New Zealand is trying to contain cases at the border by placing new arrivals into a 14-day quarantine at various hotels.
Morrison said he wanted to reduce the numbers of Australian citizens, permanent residents and foreigners exempt from Australia’s travel ban landing at Australian airports because of the strain on hotel quarantine.
Associated Press journalists around the world contributed to this report.
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