Australia probes COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne

Sydney, Australia, Jul 20 (efe-epa).- A judicial investigation began in Australia on Monday to analyze the resurgence of COVID-19 cases in Melbourne with an eye on security breaches in the city’s quarantine hotels that are considered the source of the new outbreaks.

The government of the state of Victoria, whose capital is Melbourne, had ordered the investigation early July following a spike in infections in this city of five million inhabitants, which has been placed under a second lockdown until Aug. 20 at a time when Australia seemed to have controlled the spread of the virus.

“Comments made by the chief health officer to the media have suggested that it may even be that every case of Covid-19 in Victoria in recent weeks could be sourced to the hotel quarantine program,” senior counsel assisting the inquiry, Tony Neal, said in his opening statement at a hearing in Melbourne.

According to local media reports, security guards at the hotels, where overseas travelers have to undergo mandatory quarantine, breached protocols and allowed guests to leave their hotel rooms, shared lighters with them and even slept with them.

The judicial investigation, which is due to hand over its final report on Sep. 25, will also address the impact of COVID-19 on the community as well as the measures taken by the authorities to tackle the pandemic.

Coronavirus cases have soared in the state of Victoria, mainly in Melbourne, and infections in the region have tripled since the start of the epidemic, from 2,000 to 6,000.

Victoria also accounts for half of the total of 12,000 cases recorded in Australia since the first infection was detected in the country in March.

The outbreak has prompted Victoria to make wearing of masks compulsory in Melbourne and the neighboring Mitchell Shire, which is also under lockdown, starting Thursday.

The border between Victoria and the state of New South Wales, which together account for more than half of Australia’s population and economy, closed early July for the first time in 100 years.

The Australian parliament has also canceled its next session, which was scheduled to be held between Aug. 4 and 13.

For its part, the state of New South Wales, which has been recording local cases in Sydney and the southern coastal town of Batemans Bay, has strengthened controls on the border with Victoria and imposed stricter limits on gatherings to avoid a possible outbreak.

The government of New South Wales, which reported about 20 infections last week, has also reduced the influx of international travelers from 450 to 350 a day, to accommodate everyone in the designated facilities. EFE-EPA


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