Victoria has set another bleak record for daily coronavirus infections, with 725 confirmed on Wednesday as Melbourne begins to shut down.
The state also had 15 more deaths, including one man in his 30s.
He is the youngest person to die so far in Australia, while the pandemic has claimed 162 Victorian lives. It is also the highest number of deaths confirmed on a single day.
The other fatalities reported on Wednesday were three men and a woman in their 70s, three men and three women in their 80s, and three men and a woman in their 90s. Twelve were linked to the crisis in Victorian aged care.
Wednesday tops the state’s previous highest number of new infections – 723 infections were recorded last Thursday (July 30), followed by 627 on Friday (July 31).
On another grim day, and hours before most Melbourne businesses shut down for six weeks, Premier Daniel Andrews had a message of support for Victorians.
“I’m so grateful and so proud to think Victorians are dealing with this challenge, a bigger challenge than perhaps we have ever faced, and they are doing it with a sense of compassion,” he said.
He described the stringent Stage 4 restrictions that will last until at least mid-September as “the only option” to quell the state’s deadly virus outbreak.
“If we all continue to do as we should, making better choices, then we’ll keep our community safe and we will get to the other side of this,” he said.
“The alternative, of course, is these restrictions lasting for much longer than they should.”
Melbourne businesses were in their final hours of normal trade on Wednesday ahead of the six-week city-wide shutdown of all but essential services from midnight.
Melburnians are also subject to 8pm-5am daily curfews, while regional Victorians face less stringent stage three restrictions.
From midnight on Wednesday, workers who are outside their homes – particularly during the curfew hours – will have to show authorities their papers in the form of a work permit.
On Wednesday morning, the state Department of Justice website crashed under enormous demand for the permits. The department later posted alternative links to the paperwork.
Elsewhere, the federal government will give money to Victorian childcare centres so parents can keep their children at home without losing their places.
Additional funding will be provided to centres in the state, to encourage them not to charge fees for absent children for an additional 30 days.
It will effectively allow parents to keep their children out of care for six extra working weeks without being stung by additional costs, if their centre agrees to waive the fee.
“Ultimately the decision to waive the gap fee is up to the provider themselves, but what this package does is incentivise providers to waive the gap fee,” Education Minister Dan Tehan said on Wednesday.
“We want those parents to keep their children enrolled because we know once we come out of this pandemic, they will need the care for their children so that they can go back to work.”
The new arrangements will be in place from Thursday, the first day of the Melbourne shutdown.
Mr Andrews said “permitted workers” – whether they worked from home or not – would be eligible for permits to access childcare, if required.
He also announced the cancellation of elective surgery in regional Victoria for all but category one and the most urgent category two patients.
“This is a regrettable decision but it is very important one in order to preserve sufficient capacity in our entire health system,” he said.
Meanwhile, NSW confirmed 12 new COVID cases to 8pm on Tuesday. One was a traveller in hotel quarantine, while 10 are linked to known clusters.
Queensland’s border shuts
In other coronavirus developments on Wednesday morning, Queensland announced it would close its border to all of NSW and the ACT from 1am on Saturday.
It comes as the state recorded one new case of coronavirus overnight.
The 68 year-old Queensland woman was diagnosed with the virus in the past 24 hours and authorities are still investigating the source of the infection.
The closure includes the ACT, which has no active COVID cases, because Queensland authorities say people are flying from there to get around other travel bans.
Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk confirmed the new rules on Wednesday morning.
“I know it’s going to be tough on Queenslanders. But your health comes first,” she said.
“We need to protect not only our health, we need to protect the families, we need to protect our economy.”
The hotspot declaration means anyone travelling from NSW or the nation’s capital will soon be banned from entering the Sunshine State.