Melbourne cases hit pandemic record even as lockdown nears two months


MELBOURNE / SYDNEY (Reuters) – COVID-19 cases in the Australian state of Victoria reached record highs on Thursday despite the state capital Melbourne being stranded for nearly two months as authorities rush to vaccinate the population before relaxing restrictions.

A total of 1,438 new infections have been reported, the majority in Melbourne, eclipsing the previous daily high of 950 on Wednesday. Five new deaths have been recorded in the state.

Australia’s largest cities, Sydney and Melbourne, and the capital Canberra are stranded for weeks to fight a third wave of infections fueled by the fast-growing Delta variant. Authorities have abandoned a COVID-zero strategy and are considering higher vaccination as a strategy to exit lockdowns.

The record cases in Victoria come as the federal government on Thursday decided to phase out emergency financial support for businesses affected by the closures, in line with its plan to end support for employees affected by the virus.

Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said temporary payments will stop once 80% of the adult population in states and territories is fully immunized.

But businesses in Victoria will receive new Australian $ 2.27 billion ($ 1.65 billion) in support from the federal government over the next six weeks, when the state is expected to meet that dosage target, up from about 50% now.

“We cannot eliminate the virus, we have to learn to live with it in a safe way against COVID,” Frydenberg said in a statement.

The federal government’s decision to remove support payments, shared equally between the states and Canberra, will pressure virus-free states to keep their economies open and avoid lockdowns to tackle future outbreaks.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison has pressured all states and territories to start living with the virus once full inoculations reach 70-80%, but Queensland and Western Australia, largely without COVID, have reported that they may delay reopening.

Despite Delta’s latest outbreaks, the total number of cases in Australia stands at around 104,000 and deaths at 1,283, well below other comparable countries.

($ 1 = AU $ 1.3778)

(Reporting by Sonali Paul and Renju Jose; Editing by Himani Sarkar)

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