Station workers stand near a sign at a deserted train station during morning rush hour in Sydney, Australia. Reuters
Australia's most populous state recorded its highest daily rise in coronavirus cases on Tuesday and officials warned of harsher penalties for anybody violating self-isolation orders as the country stepped closer to a full lockdown.
While schools officially remained open in most of the country, parents were strongly advised to keep their children home, as all other non-essential services, including cinemas, pubs and houses of worship, were closed for the first full day.
New South Wales (NSW) state identified 149 new coronavirus cases overnight, bringing the state total to 818, and the national toll to 1,886 cases. The national death toll remained unchanged at seven.
Australia has registered significantly lower rates of the virus compared to elsewhere in the world, but the infection rate has quickened in recent days.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the pandemic was at a "critical stage" and authorities would be strictly enforcing self-isolation requirements.
"We are ramping up our compliance," she told reporters in Sydney. "There are harsh penalties and we'll enforce that. We have to take this seriously."
The upheaval has caused havoc in financial markets and raised expectations of the country slumping into its first recession in almost three decades.
Westpac economists said that the extraordinary measures in place to counter the spread of the disease would push the unemployment rate above 11%, which would be the highest since the country was last in recession in the early 1990s.
There were visible signs of social stress with long queues forming outside offices of the main welfare agency across the country.
The rapid ramp-up in social distancing measures across the country has been hampered by Australia's system of federal and state governments, which are separately responsible for regulating different services.
The operation of schools has been a flashpoint, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison advising they remained open and safe for students to attend, while some state leaders urged parents to keep their children home.
"It is as clear as mud and no wonder parents are confused out there," Anthony Albanese, the leader of the federal opposition party, told ABC Radio.
Morrison was due to meet with the national cabinet formed to deal with the crisis, comprising state and federal political and health officials, later on Tuesday to discuss the next steps. Australia has not yet ordered citizens to stay home for all but non-essential tasks.Reuters
The estimate came as the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS) reported a 7.5 percent drop in jobs -- which it said was equivalent to about 700,000 workers out of an active workforce of some 13 million -- in the five weeks to April 18.
Other states and territories have recorded few or zero cases in recent weeks and are continuing to reopen their economies, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison told residents not to become complacent.
A six-week lockdown in the city is due to be relaxed on Sept. 13. But the state government has not said how it will be relaxed or given any assurances that it won’t be extended.
After more than 100 days in a strict lockdown that allowed only for two hours of outdoor activity a day, the 5 million people living in Melbourne, Victoria's capital, will be able to spend as much time exercising outdoors as they wish.
France's Pierre Agostini, Hungarian-Austrian Ferenc Krausz and French-Swedish Anne L'Huillier won the Nobel prize in physics on Tuesday for research using ultra quick light flashes that enable the study of electrons inside atoms and molecules.
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The authorities said, “We strongly encourage everyone to rely solely on our official channels for accurate information to avoid unnecessary worry.”