FILE PHOTO: Fire Services Victoria personnel meet outside a public housing tower, locked down in response to an outbreak of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19), in Melbourne, Australia, July 8, 2020. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders/File Photo
SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s COVID-19 hotspot state, Victoria, should consider lifting a night curfew if the decision was not made on health advice, federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said, as total pandemic deaths in the state crossed 700 on Thursday.
Victorian authorities are trying to fend off criticism after its chief health officer told local radio he hadn’t recommended the night curfew in state capital Melbourne, although he was not against it from “a public health perspective.”
State premier Daniel Andrews confirmed to local media that the curfew had been enacted to make it easier for police to enforce a more general lockdown, which includes sweeping business shutdowns and restrictions on movement.
Hunt told Sky News he had been surprised at the news on the curfew. The federal government has been anxious to ensure state restrictions are not prolonged for longer than necessary given the damage to the economy.
“If there is no medical basis for something, then obviously, that is then something entirely within the remit of the Victorian government to address and we’d encourage them to consider that in the coming days,” he said.
The state on Sunday extended tough restrictions to Sept. 28, including a night curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. in Melbourne.
The daily rise in cases eased in Victoria on Thursday as it reported 51 new cases in the past 24 hours, compared with 76 cases a day earlier. Seven people died from the virus compared with 11 deaths reported on Wednesday.
The daily rise in cases has fallen to double digits in recent days from highs of more than 700 in early August.
Victoria, home to one-quarter of Australia’s 25 million population, now accounts for about 75% of the country’s 26,516 COVID-19 cases and 90% of its 788 deaths.