Victorian authorities have confirmed a second consecutive day of more than 400 coronavirus infections and, devastatingly, five more deaths.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the state had 403 new virus infections to Thursday morning – a day after reporting a record 484 cases.
He also confirmed Victoria’s virus toll had risen significantly, with the deaths in the past 24 hours of four men in their 50s, 70s, 80s and 90s, and a woman in her 70s. The woman and two of the men were former aged-care residents.
The latest deaths bring the state’s toll to 49 and the national figure to 133.
Thursday’s tally came as federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg revealed the unprecedented response to the COVID crisis has left the federal budget $85.8 billion in the red, with projections of a $184.5 billion hole in the 2020-21 financial year.
Just days after the government announced it would extend modified versions of JobKeeper and JobSeeker, Mr Frydenberg delivered the major economic update on Thursday morning.
The federal government had been foreshadowing grim economic data ahead of its first budget update since the pandemic took hold.
On Wednesday, Mr Frydenberg said the release would include some “eye-watering numbers” on debt and deficit.
His warning was not off the mark: The government has revealed what it says is the biggest deficit since World War II.
“The government is providing timely economic support with $289 billion in fiscal and balance sheet measures, equivalent to around 14.6 per cent of GDP,” Mr Frydenberg said.
“This action, together with large declines in taxation receipts and increases in payments, has seen a major deterioration in the budget position, with estimated deficits of $85.8 billion in 2019-20 and $184.5 billion in 2020-21.”
- More on Josh Frydenberg’s economic update here
NSW also reported 19 more COVID cases on Thursday. They included three people associated with the Crossroads Hotel cluster and nine with the cluster at the nearby Thai Rock restaurant.
One of the cases linked to the restaurant is a child who attended Tomaree Public School in Salamander Bay, while another is a young child from Goodstart Early Learning Anna Bay. Both were closed on Thursday.
An aged-care centre in Sydney’s inner-west has also been closed after a worker linked to the restaurant fell ill. NSW authorities are desperately hoping to avoid a situation like Victoria’s, where hundreds of staff and residents have been infected in 45 COVID clusters in aged-care facilities.
An outbreak at St Basil’s Homes for the Aged in Fawkner has grown to 69 cases in staff and residents, while 54 people at Estia Health have contracted the disease.
A new cluster has also emerged at Kirkbrae Presbyterian Homes in Kilsyth, with two staff and one resident testing positive.
Australian Medical Association president Tony Bartone said there had been an “astronomical explosion” in COVID cases in Victoria’s aged-care homes.
“Our residents in aged-care facilities are just a heartbeat away from calamity,” an emotional Dr Bartone told the Today show on Thursday.
Elsewhere, the order for Melburnians to mask up came into effect on Thursday.
Victoria Police have said they will exercise discretion in the next week if people aren’t covering their faces in public, but there will not be a lot of room for leniency.
If a person has a mask and refuses to wear it when requested, that person can expect to be issued with the fine, a police spokeswoman said.
“Similarly, if a person persists with entering a supermarket when requested not to do so due to the absence of a mask then that person can expect to be issued with a fine.”
Major supermarkets and other retailers have already said they will deny entry to people in Victoria unless they are wearing masks.
Woolworths, Coles, Aldi, FoodWorks and IGA all feature in an advertisement about face masks.
“We expect all customers to be wearing a face covering in our stores, unless a lawful exception applies to you,” Coles Group chief executive Steven Cain wrote in an email to customers on Wednesday.
“Masks have also become compulsory for our team members, unless they too have an exception.”
However, Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton has urged caution if people see others in public not wearing face masks.
“A number … are legitimately not able to wear masks so please don’t vilify individuals or don’t make the assumption they are simply stubborn,” Professor Sutton said.
“There will be people with medical, behavioural, psychological reasons … certainly don’t make an assumption that they should be the subject of your ire.”
Mr Andrews also scoffed at reports of people selling masks for use by babies or toddlers. Under the Victorian order, children under 12 do not have to wear masks.
“That is simply not on. Toddlers should not be wearing masks,” he said.