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Border closes between NSW and Victoria as southern state records largest ever jump in Covid-19 cases

Victoria has recorded its largest jump in cases at any point in the coronavirus crisis, with 127 cases reported on Monday, as the state confirmed its 21st death and the premier announced the state’s border with NSW would be closed from midnight on Tuesday.

Daniel Andrews said the border closure would be enforced only on the NSW side.

“[The closure] is the result of a phone hook-up between the prime minister and the premier of New South Wales and myself just an hour or so ago, where we have – all of us – agreed that the best thing to do is to close the border,” Andrews said on Monday morning.

“That closure will be enforced on the New South Wales side, so as not to be a drain on resources that are very much focused on fighting the virus right now across our state. I am grateful to the premier of NSW for her support in giving effect to that,” he said.

Several towns straddle the NSW and Victorian border, including the regional city of Albury–Wodonga. Andrews said there would be a permit system for those who must conduct unavoidable travel over the border.

“This is very much a decision that is made by myself, the Prime Minister and the premier of NSW … All three of us agreed that this was the appropriate step to take right now. There’s no more intrigue to it than that. It wasn’t a matter of anything other than a unified and joint position to take this step.”

Andrews confirmed that a man in his 90s had died of Covid-19, bringing Victoria’s death toll to 21, and the national count to 105. He provided no further details, “out of respect for the family”.

More than 3,000 Melburnians remain in hard lockdown in nine public housing towers in the city’s inner north and west. Andrews said that an additional 26 cases had now been linked to the towers, taking the total to 53.

“We expect that number to continue to grow. If you know it is in there, and you are going to test everybody, then you will find more cases. That is the strategy, that is what we want to be able to achieve. We can then provide care and support and the appropriate framework around anybody who tests positive, and indeed, end the lockdown for those who are not positive sooner rather than later,” he said.

The lockdown order has been issued for two weeks, with the government indicating it would initially last for five days and would be assessed on a daily basis.

Andrews defended sending out legal documents to residents that led many to believe the lockdown was already confirmed to be lasting a full fortnight.

“From time to time, there will be steps that you have to take that may not necessarily be ideal. But people have a right to understand an Act of the Victorian Parliament, to know exactly what their status at law is. I would hope that didn’t add to any distress,” he said.

The housing minister, Richard Wynne, acknowledged that some residents felt they had not received adequate government support.

“I know that there’s been some commentary about, perhaps, people who have not necessarily received the level of support that they would have liked, but I just want to assure all residents that we are doing absolutely everything that we can to both reach out and support people in this really difficult time at the moment.”

Levels of domestically acquired cases in recent weeks have far outstripped those during the peak of the virus’s first wave, when statewide lockdowns were in place. The chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said wider lockdowns were under serious consideration.

“We’re not excluding that possibility. We have always flagged that we have got these two tools – the testing and tracing tool and the physical distancing tool. We worked extremely hard the get the word out … But we need to form a view over coming days as to whether that’s a sufficient suppression of transmission.”

Sutton defended not extending lockdowns to more postcodes on Monday despite high case numbers in suburbs near the tower blocks.

“There’s significant spillover and so to use the bushfire analogy, there are literally spot fires adjacent to those restricted postcodes. But people are absolutely being engaged in those areas, so there’s lots of doorknocking, there are lots of tests that are occurring.”

More cases were also added to existing outbreaks in Monday’s figures. The Al-Taqwa College outbreak grew by 16, taking the total to 77. One new case was linked to the Truganina family outbreak, and two additional cases were linked to the Paterson Lakes/Lysterfield family outbreak.

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