A woman pushes a pram past a giant mask and eye display stuck to a tree in Melbourne. File/AFP
Australian officials were eyeing tighter restrictions in the nation's second-biggest city Friday as hundreds more coronavirus cases were recorded despite more than three weeks in lockdown.
As greater Melbourne passed the halfway point of a lockdown initially intended to last six weeks, Premier Daniel Andrews said the state would be stuck in "limbo" unless it could cut the infection rate.
"We've stopped it from getting completely out of control... but we haven't been able to suppress it sufficiently," Andrews told media in Melbourne.
Without a drop in infections, there was an "absolute certainty" any rollback of restrictions would see virus cases spiral out of control, he said.
"It's almost impossible for us to see businesses recover and survive unless and until we get these numbers down."
Victoria state -- of which Melbourne is the capital — reported over 600 cases Friday and eight deaths, a drop after recording the nation's highest daily toll Thursday with 18 deaths and 723 cases.
Half of the new deaths were connected to aged care homes in the city.
The state's top health official said any increase in restrictions had "really significant consequences" but admitted tougher rules were now being considered, including a strict lockdown and widespread business closures successfully used in neighbouring New Zealand.
New Zealand has not recorded a locally transmitted case from an unknown source in over 90 days and only 22 deaths in a population of five million.
Australia's cases ticked toward 17,000 on Friday, recording 196 deaths in a population of 25 million.Associated Press
Neighbouring New Zealand has already taken that step, announcing on Tuesday that its national airline will not take new inbound bookings for three weeks to reduce the burden on overflowing quarantine facilities.
Federal authorities have left details of the plan's implementation up to the country's diverse states and territories, meaning coronavirus restrictions will remain in place for weeks or months longer in areas hardest hit by the disease.
Governments around the world are trying to stop the spread of the disease while scrambling for ways to relieve pressure on their economies, which are facing a historic downturn with millions pushed into unemployment.
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