Australia stepped up enforcement of social distancing rules on Saturday to contain community transmission of the novel coronavirus, implementing fines, closing beaches and threatening stricter measures if people defy pleas to stay at home, Reuters reports.
The death toll from the virus rose to 14 after an elderly woman died in an aged-care facility in New South Wales, where several residents and employees have tested positive for the virus, according to NSW health officials.
The country’s total number of confirmed coronavirus cases rose by 212 to 3,378 early on Saturday, two-thirds of them in NSW and Victoria states, according to the federal heath ministry.
The infection rate in Australia remains slower than in many other countries, although it is accelerating, especially in the most populous states of NSW and Victoria where more than half of the country’s 25.5 million people live.
People sunbathe at St Kilda Beach in Melbourne, Saturday, March 28, 2020. Photograph: Scott Barbour/AAP
As of midnight on Saturday, all returning citizens from abroad will be put into compulsory quarantine in hotels for two weeks at the government’s expense.
Military personnel will help ensure travellers comply with the new rules.
Australia’s state and federal governments have sent some mixed messages about social distancing and other containment measures, leading to widespread confusion.
While there is no national order to stay home, entertainment and other mass-gathering venues have been shut and authorities have urged people to cancel house parties and other social gatherings.
In Victoria, police closed beaches on Saturday after hundreds of people flocked to the waterside a day earlier in a repeat of scenes the previous weekend at Sydney’s Bondi beach.
Police raided a party at a backpacker hostel at Bondi on Friday night, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported.
In Queensland state more than one million people headed to polling stations on Saturday for council elections, and were asked to bring their own pens and maintain distances of 1.5 metres (5 feet), the state government said.