Asia Today: Australian state's cases spike, borders to shut

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Women hold signs outside housing commission apartments under lockdown in Melbourne, Australia, on Monday, July 6, 2020. The leader of Australias most populous state says her governments decision to close its border with hard-hit Victoria state marks a new phase in the countrys coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Andy Brownbill)

MELBOURNE – The hard-hit Australian state of Victoria recorded two deaths and its highest-ever daily increase in coronavirus cases on Monday as authorities prepare to close its border with New South Wales.

The death of the two men, one in his 60s and the other in his 90s, brings the national death toll from COVID-19 to 106.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said of the 127 new cases, 53 were among 3,000 people who have been confined by police to their apartments in nine public housing blocks since Saturday.

Andrews said the high number of cases reflected a daily record number of tests exceeding 24,500.

Andrews also announced that the state border with New South Wales will be closed from late Tuesday night in an agreement between the two state premiers and Prime Minister Scott Morrison. Morrison had previously opposed states closing their borders.

It will be the first time Australia’s two most populous states have closed their border since the pandemic began.

New South Wales had previously banned travel from dozens of Melbourne suburbs that were locked down last week for a month due to high rates of infection.

The leader of Australia’s most populous state said her government’s decision to close its border with hard-hit Victoria marked a new phase in the country’s outbreak.

New South Wales Premier Gladys Berejiklian had criticized states that closed their borders to New South Wales residents when Sydney, the state capital and Australia's largest city, had most of the country's COVID-19 cases.

She noted the overwhelming majority of new cases in Melbourne in recent weeks were from community transmission. Everywhere else in Australia, the vast majority of cases were people infected overseas or by a returned traveler, Berejiklian said.

“What is occurring in Victoria has not yet occurred anywhere else in Australia,” she said. “It’s a new part of the pandemic and, as such, it requires a new type of response.”

New South Wales police will close the Victorian border from late Tuesday. Some flights and trains services would continue for travelers who are given permits and exemptions, Berejiklian said.

In other developments in the Asia-Pacific region:

— India has overtaken Russia to become the third worst-affected nation by the coronavirus after the country reported 24,248 new cases Monday. India has now confirmed 697,413 cases, including 19,693 deaths. Russia has 680,283 cases. Indian authorities late Sunday withdrew a planned reopening of the famed Taj Mahal monument, after new cases were detected in the area. India’s Culture Ministry had decided to reopen all monuments across the country on Monday after more than three months with a cap on the number of visitors and mandatory wearing of face masks. After a strict nationwide lockdown, India has eased restrictions in most of the country except for the highest-risk areas.

— The Philippines has seen a big recent spike in infections, raising the possibility its overcrowded capital may be placed back under a strict lockdown. The Department of Health reported 2,434 cases in recent days, the majority in metropolitan Manila, raising cases nationwide to more than 44,250, including 1,297 deaths. Interior Secretary Eduardo Ano said a lockdown is possible if the uptick continues and hospitals fill up. At least one major Manila hospital, the Chinese General Hospital and Medical Center, said its COVID-19 ward was running at full capacity. President Rodrigo Duterte eased the lockdown in metropolitan Manila on June 1 to help the faltering economy.

— Sri Lanka partially reopened schools on Monday as part of the Indian Ocean island nation’s efforts to emerge from its coronavirus lockdown. Authorities are reopening schools in phases after keeping them closed for more than three months due to the lockdown. Students in grades 5, 11 and 13 returned Monday. Other students will return later this month. Sri Lanka has reported 2,076 virus cases, including 11 deaths.

— South Korea reported 48 new infections Monday, 24 of them each linked to local transmissions and international arrivals, continuing a weekslong spread that has inspired second-guessing on whether officials were too quickly to ease social restrictions entering May. The figures announced by the Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention brought the national caseload to 13,137 infections and 284 deaths. Health Minister Park Neung-hoo during a virus meeting on Monday said the outbreak remains controllable while urging vigilance to slow the spread.

— China reported four new cases, three from outside the country and one transmitted locally in Beijing, the National Health Commission reported. Another 106 people were in isolation as suspected cases or for testing positive for the virus without showing symptoms. China has recorded 4,634 deaths among 83,557 cases since the virus was detected in the central city of Wuhan late last year.

— A 37-year-old journalist recovering from the coronavirus killed himself Monday by jumping from the fourth floor of India’s premier public hospital in Delhi. Hospital authorities said the journalist, who worked for a Hindi newspaper, broke a window and jumped out of the All India Institute of Medical Sciences building. Dr. Aarti Vij, the spokesperson for the hospital, said the journalist “was making significant recovery from his COVID symptoms.” She did not cite any reasons for his death. The journalist had undergone brain tumor surgery at a different hospital in March and was having “bouts of disorientation” while undergoing treatment for COVID-19, Vij said in a statement. India has the third-highest number of coronavirus infections, with 697,413 cases and 19,693 deaths.