SYDNEY - Australia’s military is being called in to help the state of Victoria cope with a sharp rise in coronavirus cases. Authorities have reported a spike in COVID-19 infections in the past week and have urged residents not to leave several disease hot spots in Melbourne.
Victoria recorded 33 new coronavirus infections Thursday, the ninth consecutive day of double-digit growth in case numbers. Lockdown restrictions that have been eased in recent weeks could be reimposed.
Sending in the military is a significant move. One thousand Australian troops will boost security at quarantine facilities for travelers returning from overseas. They will also help with testing as the state struggles with a surge in COVID-19 cases. Complacency and a flouting of distancing and hygiene protocols have been blamed.
“The primary lever that we have now is a test-and-trace mechanism, broadening the testing availability, and the messaging and reach everyone about the need to test if they are symptomatic is our key driver to get numbers down,” said Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief medical officer.
The virus is spreading, especially in Melbourne, the state’s largest city and the second-largest city in Australia, and hot spots could again be forced into lockdown.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews described the pandemic as a “public health bushfire,” a reference to the deadly summer blazes that tore across much of southeastern Australia.
Andrews said there will be a testing blitz in 10 suburbs, and more than 100,000 tests are planned in the next 10 days.
“People are going to be knocking on your door and they are going to be asking you to get tested,” Andrews said. “Please say yes. Please go and get tested. That is the most important thing that you in those suburbs can do to help us contain this virus.”
State government health care workers will be using a new type of saliva swab, rather than nasal pads, to screen for the disease.
Authorities have said that large family gatherings, permitted following the easing of lockdown restrictions in Victoria, have been the source of the new infections.
Officials in New South Wales, the nation’s most populous state, remain concerned about active community transmission of the virus. Health Minister Brad Hazzard said it was not a time for residents to be complacent.
There is some good news, though. The state of Queensland has now gone eight days without any new COVID-19 cases.
Australia has recorded 7,521 confirmed coronavirus cases, 104 people have died.