More than 600,000 people around the world have now died of the coronavirus, and countries from the US to South Africa to India are struggling to contain a surge of new infections.
The World Health Organisation said that 259,848 new infections have been reported in 24 hours. That was the world’s highest one-day tally yet.
More than 11,800 Australians have the coronavirus, and the death toll here has reached 122 after three more deaths were confirmed in Victoria on Sunday.
Americans remain the worst hit by the virus, with more than 140,000 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the United States.
But in continuing to play down the impact of the pandemic, President Donald Trump now claims the mortality rate is the “opposite” of what’s been recorded.
In an interview with Fox News on Monday morning (Australian time), host Chris Wallace cited figures from the Johns Hopkins University to show the US had the world’s highest number of deaths.
Mr Trump answered: “But when you talk about mortality rates, I think it’s the opposite. I think we have one of the lowest mortality rates in the world.”
“That’s not true, sir. … We had 900 deaths on a single day,” Wallace replied.
But the numbers speak for themselves; the US has more than 3.7 million coronavirus cases and the death toll there is double that of the next worst-hit country Brazil where 78,000 people have died.
There are also concerns now of growing outbreaks in South Africa which now ranks as the fifth worst-hit country in the pandemic with more than 350,000 cases.
Its struggles are a sign of trouble to come for countries with even fewer health care resources.
Australian states tightening borders
Back in Australia, all eyes are on border rules and whether other states – particularly New South Wales, which is grappling with more outbreaks – will follow Victoria in mandating the use of masks.
NSW is set to enforce tougher coronavirus border restrictions for people looking to enter the state from Victoria.
From midnight on Tuesday, a border zone will be set up along the Murray River and criteria for cross-border travel with be tightened.
All current travel permits will be cancelled and residents in the border zone who wish to move between the states will have to reapply.
Travel will only be allowed for work, education or for medical care, supplies or health services.
“The growing rates of community transmission in Victoria have us on high alert,” NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said.
He said the new protocols will make it harder to obtain a permit and make it easier for the government to cancel them.
If NSW residents travel beyond the border zone into Victoria, they will be forced to self-isolate for two weeks when they return.
Meanwhile, NSW is also expected to react on Monday to Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk’s request for border checkpoints to be moved south to ease traffic congestion and frustration of border town locals.
Ms Palaszczuk will send a request to her counterpart Gladys Berejiklian for the checkpoints to be within NSW.
Her plea follows Gold Coast Mayor Tom Tate last week wanting the NSW-Queensland border checkpoint at Banora Point to stop “diabolical” wait times.
“I’ve got a letter that we’ve been working on over the weekend and I’ll be sending that on Monday,” Ms Palaszczuk said.
“You know, we will do whatever it is necessary but we have previously requested at an operational level, if it could be moved to the Tweed River.”
Quarantine security probed
An inquiry into Victoria’s bungled hotel quarantine security is due to begin on Monday, as the state brings in more police and Army personnel to manage lockdowns instead.
The probe will be led by retired judge Jennifer Coate, assisted by Tony Neal QC.
The inquiry was instigated by Premier Daniel Andrews after it was revealed protocol breaches by security guards at two Melbourne hotels led to outbreaks.
Management of the hotel quarantine program is now being done by Corrections Victoria and police will also provide additional support, the premier confirmed on Sunday.
“It just makes sense to take those extra steps … to try and make sure that you protect what is a particularly volatile environment from a virus point of view,” Mr Andrews told reporters.
Health Minister Greg Hunt on Sunday announced the Commonwealth would inject cash into Victoria’s aged care sector where cases have significantly increased, in part due to the botched hotel quarantine system.
“In order to protect these residents and the staff, most of whom have contracted the virus within the community following the catastrophic breach of hotel quarantine that has seen a city of five million in lockdown,” Mr Hunt said.
No witnesses are expected to front the inquiry on the first day.
Further public hearings will be held next month and a final report due on September 25.