Australia's Victoria on alert after first COVID-19 case in two months

SYDNEY (Reuters) -Australia’s second most populous state reported a locally acquired COVID-19 case for the first time in more than two months on Tuesday, sending authorities scrambling to find the source of the infection amid concern about a new outbreak.

FILE PHOTO: People walk through the city centre as the state of New South Wales continues to report relatively low numbers for new daily cases of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Sydney, Australia, September 4, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

A man in his 30s, who returned from India in mid-April and completed mandatory two-week hotel quarantine in neighbouring South Australia, tested positive for the virus after developing symptoms over the weekend, authorities said.

Health workers had interviewed the man and urged people he had been in contact with to self-isolate and get tested. They also published a list of locations exposed to the virus.

Though Australia has largely eradicated the virus with border closures, Victoria has had most of the coronavirus cases and deaths and spent much of 2020 in lockdown.

“There is definitely a sense of complacency creeping in,” Victoria Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton told reporters.

“We haven’t had really significant outbreaks for some time and people drop their guard, people go about life as if we haven’t been through the 15 months we have all been through. But it is a reminder that we need to be on guard.”

Victoria had no immediate plans to elevate social distancing or mask-wearing rules, said Sutton, adding it was possible the man caught the virus in quarantine in Australia and not in India.

There were no other cases reported in Victoria or in New South Wales (NSW), Australia’s most populous state, which tightened its virus-protection rules last week when a couple tested positive without a known source.

The new Victorian case rekindled calls for the federal government to play a more active role in the hotel quarantine system, which is administered by the states.

“We are going to need a strong border control and a strong quarantine control likely for years,” Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said at the news conference.

“We cannot continue to have a situation where it is the states disproportionately bearing the load.”

Australia has reported just over 29,900 novel coronavirus cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began.

It closed its borders to all but citizens and permanent residents in March last year and international arrivals, except from New Zealand, spend two weeks in hotel quarantine at their own expense.

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