SYDNEY, June 23 (Xinhua) — A spike in new COVID-19 cases in the Australian State of Victoria has cast doubt over hopes for a resurgence in domestic travel, which would greatly help struggling tourism operators.
More than 70 new cases recorded in Victoria since last week has left authorities in other states weighing up the risk of a second wave of infections and the unalluring possibility of a return to lockdowns.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday that there had been “significant community transmission,” prompting the closure of two schools with positive cases, with residents warned not to pretend that the crisis is over.
On the other side of the country, in the State of Western Australia (WA), Premier Mark McGowan said the Victorian outbreak made him reconsider plans to open WA’s borders to those from other states.
“Clearly it makes you have second thoughts…particularly because this community spread in Victoria has been going on for about a week and they can’t track it down,” McGowan told local radio station 6PR on Monday.
“They have actually shut down parts of their economy they had reopened, so that’s a risk — if you get the virus back you then have to start shutting things down again.”
WA’s hard border closure to visitors from the east of the country has led to it recording zero cases of local transmission since early April, with plans to further wind back local COVID-19 regulations, which are already Australia’s most lenient.
Starting this weekend WA will enter phase 4 of virus restrictions, removing the limit on public gatherings, which will see sports crowds of up to 30,000 people, and a one person per two square metre rule for hospitality venues, compared to four square metres in the rest of the country.
“We are miles and miles in front of the other states and we are able to do that because we have the comfort of knowing that we can protect our citizens from infection from elsewhere,” McGowan said.
Meanwhile, Queensland State, which has also kept its borders shut to non-essential travellers for several months, declared Victoria’s State capital of Melbourne a hotspot, meaning anyone arriving from there to Queensland would need to quarantine for two weeks.
Queensland has been a holdout in discussions to reopen state borders, despite the potential for domestic visitation to support its highly exposed tourism sector which encompasses the Great Barrier Reef.
After months of negotiation, plans were in place for Queensland to reopen its borders from July 10, however that date is now in serious jeopardy, with state authorities saying they will reassess the situation at the end of June.
Meanwhile, in Victoria’s neighbouring State, New South Wales, Premier Gladys Berejklian said that while the border between the two states would remain open — as it has done throughout the pandemic — she advised against travelling to Victoria, particularly to regions with heightened case numbers.
“We would recommend nobody travel to those hotspots and certainly the Victorian government and Victorian health experts have also suggested to people living in those hotspots not to travel around,” Berejiklian said.