In an effort to curb the coronavirus infections, Australia’s hotspot Victoria State has extended its state of emergency for another six months on Wednesday as its weekly average of new coronavirus infections dipped.
The Victorian Parliament’s upper chamber passed legislation by a 20-19 vote to extend the state of emergency, which enhances the government’s powers to impose pandemic restrictions.
The state health department reported 90 new infections and six deaths in the latest 24-hour period. There were only 70 new infections reported on Tuesday.
The latest seven-day average of new reported infections has dropped into double-digits — 95 — for the first time in weeks. The previous week’s average was 175 infections a day.
The government had wanted a 12-month extension.
Coronavirus situation in Asia-Pacific region:
India has reported 78,357 new coronavirus cases in the past 24 hours, raising the country’s tally to more than 3.7 million reported cases since the pandemic began.
The climb comes as the government eases pandemic restrictions to help the battered economy.
The Health Ministry on Wednesday also reported 1,045 deaths in the past 24 hours, taking total fatalities up to 66,333.
India has been reporting the most new daily cases in the world for more than three weeks. India has also increased its testing capacity — nearly 100,000 per day — but experts say it is not enough.
Besides, South Korea has seen a triple-digit daily jump in reported coronavirus infections for the 20th straight day, prompting authorities in recent days to impose tough social distancing rules.
The Korea Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Wednesday the 267 new cases took the country’s tally since the pandemic began to 20,449 reported infections with 326 deaths.
South Korea has seen a rise in infections since early last month, many associated with churches, restaurants and schools.
Authorities have recently restricted dining at restaurants and ordered the shutdown of churches, fitness centers and night establishments in the Seoul area as it struggles to track many of the new infections.
The premier of Australia’s hard-hit Victoria state has declared a disaster among growing new coronavirus restrictions across Melbourne and elsewhere from Sunday night.
Premier Daniel Andrews says the state of disaster proclamation gave police greater power.
He says 671 new coronavirus cases had been detected since Saturday, including seven deaths. It comes among a steadily increasing toll in both deaths and infections over the past six weeks in Victoria.
“If we don’t make these changes, we’re not going to get through this,” Andrews said. “We need to do more. That is what these decisions are about.”
An evening curfew will be implemented across Melbourne from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.
He said there would be more announcements about workplaces on Monday, including the closure of certain industries.
“I want to ensure all Victorians — supermarkets, the butcher, the baker, food, beverage, groceries, those types of settings — there will be no impact there,” he said.
Melbourne residents will only be allowed to shop and exercise within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of their homes. All students across the state will return to home-based learning and child care centers will be closed.
The deaths in Victoria took the national toll to 208.
Also Sunday, New South Wales confirmed its first coronavirus-related death in more than a month as authorities sought to suppress a number of growing clusters at a hotel and several restaurants in Sydney.
Coronavirus-forced restrictions in Melbourne could be tightened from next week as authorities try to stem the spread of COVID-19, report Australian media.
It comes as Australia’s COVID-19 death toll rose to 201, with Victoria state leaders considering New Zealand-style lockdowns to get community transmission under control. Victoria on Saturday reported the deaths of a man and two women aged in their 80s and 90s, and 397 new cases.
The Sunday Age reported the city may be placed under a six-week period of more stringent constraints, including the almost complete shutdown of Melbourne’s public transport network, starting from Wednesday.
The Sunday Herald Sun reports Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews will announce the new measures over the next two days.
They also include limiting the distance residents could travel from their homes and the closure of more businesses selling non-essential goods.
The state’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said stricter lockdowns like those enforced in New Zealand were being considered. Under the New Zealand model, all businesses would shut down except for essential services.
On Sunday, New South Wales confirmed its first coronavirus-related death in more than a month as authorities sought to suppress a number of growing clusters at a hotel and several restaurants in Sydney.
Traditional crowds at dawn services for the Anzac Day memorial holiday in Australia were replaced with candlelit vigils in driveways and neighbors gathering to listen to buglers play "The Last Post."
Restrictions on crowds and social distancing due to the coronavirus meant that the usual packed dawn services in cities and towns across the country were not held. The holiday, also celebrated in New Zealand, marks the anniversary of New Zealand and Australian soldiers, known as Anzacs, landing on the Gallipoli Peninsula in 1915.
More than 10,000 soldiers from the two countries were killed during that World War I campaign in what's now Turkey, although Anzac Day honors those killed in all wars.
In the national capital Canberra, Prime Minister Scott Morrison spoke at a crowd-free commemorative service held inside the Australian War Memorial. A didgeridoo sounded the beginning of the service.
In the Sydney suburb of Wahroonga, trumpeter Lewis Ketteridge, 8, and French horn player Grace Colville, 16, were among a dozen brass players playing "The Last Post" from their driveways at dawn before 40 residents observed a minute's silence.
"Strangely, it made it more moving that people were still willing to commemorate Anzac Day instead of just letting it go by," said resident Catherine Colville.
She said the community carefully maintained social distancing as they placed candles, pictures of serving ancestors and wreaths of native leaves and flowers under an Australian flag hanging on a tree.
Marches and gatherings were canceled for only the third time — the last time in 1942 and previously during the devastating Spanish flu outbreak of 1918.
In New Zealand, where even tighter crowd restrictions are in place, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern stood at dawn on the driveway of Premier House, the leader's official residence, for a ceremony.
Thousands around New Zealand participated in the "Stand at Dawn" initiative, and in one Christchurch suburb, bagpiper Tom Glove greeted the families that gathered at each driveway with a rendition of "Amazing Grace."
Cardinal George Pell has linked his fight against corruption in the Vatican with his prosecution in Australia for alleged child sex abuse.
Pell was regarded as the third highest-ranking Vatican official in 2018 when he became the world's most senior Catholic to be convicted of child sex abuse. He served 13 months in prison before Australia's High Court last week acquitted him of molesting two choirboys in St. Patrick's Cathedral in Melbourne while he was archbishop of Australia's second-largest city in the 1990s.
Pope Francis' former finance minister said in a television interview broadcast on Tuesday that some church officials believed he was prosecuted by Australian authorities because of the trouble he had caused in the Vatican in implementing financial reforms.
"Most of the senior people in Rome who are in any way sympathetic to financial reforms believe that they are" linked to the prosecution, the 78-year-old cleric told Sky News.
"What was surprising was even my theological opponents in Rome didn't believe the stories" of sexual abuse, he added.
Pell said he did not have evidence of a link. But he suspected that a man who swore he had been sexually abused by Pell as a 13-year-old choirboy more than two decades ago had been "used."
Francis created the Secretariat for the Economy, and named Pell its prefect, as a key part of his financial reform plans after being elected pope in 2013. Pell had tried to wrestle the Holy See's opaque finances into order and align them with international standards, but his efforts and brusque style were rebuffed repeatedly by the Vatican's old guard.
Pell stood aside from the job in 2017 to return to Australia, determined to clear himself of decades-old allegations of child sex abuse.
Francis named a 60-year-old Spanish economist, the Rev. Juan Antonio Guerrero Alves, as Pell's successor last year, a day after Australia's Victoria state Court of Appeal agreed to hear his case to overturn the convictions. The court upheld Pell's convictions in a 2-1 majority decision.
Alves came to his new job in a period of financial crisis, after Vatican prosecutors raided the Secretariat of State and the Holy See's financial watchdog after receiving reports of a suspicious real estate transaction.
Pell said Francis had "absolutely" supported him, even though "My theological views ... don't line up exactly with Pope Francis."
"I think he values my honesty and perhaps that I would say things that some other people mightn't say, and I think he respects me for that," Pell added.
Pell said that neither Francis nor Vatican Secretary of State Cardinal Pietro Parolin were corrupt, but that he did not know how high Vatican corruption rose.
"Just how high up it goes is an interesting hypothesis," he said.
Pell said he'll return to Rome after the coronavirus pandemic to pack up his apartment, but that he plans to make his home in Sydney, where he had been archbishop.
Victoria police refused to comment on newspaper reports Tuesday that they have begun investigating another child abuse allegation against Pell dating to the 1970s.
Pell said he "wouldn't be entirely surprised" if police continued to pursue him. He has denied any wrongdoing.
Pell said he was "ashamed" of his church over its child abuse crisis.
"There are two levels. One is the crimes themselves and then the treating it so inadequately for so long," Pell said.
He warned in child abuse cases that "guilt by accusation" was "not a sign of a civilization."
"The pendulum 30 or 40 years ago was massively against anybody who said that they'd been attacked," Pell said. "Nowadays we don't want it to swing back so that every accusation is regarded as gospel truth. That would be quite unjust and inappropriate."
Pell's accuser in his trial, a man in his 30s whose identity is concealed by law, said in a statement last week that he hoped Pell's acquittal would not deter child abuse victims from reporting to police.
"I would like to reassure child abuse survivors that most people recognize the truth when they hear it," said the man, described in court as Witness J. "They know the truth when they look it in the face. I am content with that."