Australia sets up suburban checkpoints to contain Melbourne virus hotspots

SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australian police set up suburban checkpoints in new coronavirus hotspots in Melbourne on Thursday, as authorities struggled to contain new outbreaks in the country’s second-largest city, even as travel restrictions eased elsewhere.

Images published by the Australian Broadcasting Corp. on Thursday showed police flagging down cars in suburban streets after 36 suburbs in Melbourne in Victoria state went into lockdown following a spike in new infections there.

“Over 300,000 Australians … are going into a difficult situation, which we’ve all been through,” said Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt in a media conference, referring to the residents of the affected suburbs.

“We know we can get through it but nevertheless it’s a huge imposition on their lives,” Hunt added.

Australia has fared better than many countries in the pandemic, with around 8,000 cases, 104 deaths and fewer than 400 active cases. However, the recent jump in Victoria has stoked fears of a second wave of COVID-19, echoing concerns expressed in other countries.

Most states have said they will reopen their internal borders except to Victoria. Neighbouring New South Wales, the most populous state, has kept its border open except to people arriving from the 36 Victorian suburbs.

On the other side of the country, remote Northern Territory reported its first infection in two months after a traveler who had entered the country via Melbourne and completed the mandatory two-week quarantine showed symptoms after returning to his home territory.

“I can understand that people will be anxious hearing this news … but we have measures in place to protect our community (and) these measures have been followed,” Northern Territory Health Minister Natasha Fyles told reporters.

The infected person, aged in their 30s, has been isolated in hospital, she added.

Globally, coronavirus cases exceeded 10 million on Sunday, a major milestone in the spread of a disease that has killed more than half a million people in seven months.

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