Nineteen people died from Covid-19 in the past 24 hours – all in the country’s south-eastern state, health officials announced on Monday.
However, there are hopes the outbreak has now peaked following a slowdown in new infections. The latest figures show only 337 people had been diagnosed with Covid-19 across Australia – the lowest one-day rise since 29 July.
“This is an agonising day for the members for the 19 families who have lost a loved one to Covid-19 today,” Michael Kidd, Australia’s deputy chief medical officer, told reporters.
He added: “We are now seeing the first promising signs of a significant decline in the number of cases.”
The apparent slowing in the spread of cases comes more than a month after the nearly five million residents of Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, were told to stay home as part of a resumed lockdown.
A week ago non-essential businesses in the city were ordered to close in an attempt to get the outbreak under control. Victoria will continue its hard lockdown for at least another five weeks.
The state recorded 322 new infections on Monday, down from a daily high of 725 cases reported five days ago.
Victoria’s premier Daniel Andrews said it was too early to say for sure whether the state was through the worst, but claimed: “We’re certainly seeing some greater stability.”
With more than 21,000 Covid-19 cases and 314 deaths, Australia has still recorded fewer infections and fatalities than many other developed nations. Outside the two largest states of Victoria and New South Wales, the disease has been effectively eliminated.
Desperate to keep the virus at bay, other Australian states and territories have closed their borders and slowed their own timetables for remove remaining social-distancing restrictions.
Australian prime minister Scott Morrison said these internal travel restrictions were likely to remain until at least Christmas.
Like many countries around the world, lockdown restrictions have devastated Australia’s economy. Unemployment is expected to peak at 14 per cent this year as the country enters its first recession in nearly three decades.
The government last week pledged to expand its wage subsidy scheme by £9bn amid the outbreak in Victoria, prompting some criticism that the economic toll was becoming too high.
But Mr Morrison said the alternative was unthinkable. “There have been some suggestions, I’ve read it ... that somehow our elderly should in some way have been offered up in relation to this virus,” the prime minister told reporters in Canberra.
“That is a just hideous thought. An absolutely amoral, hideous thought. One that I’ve had no countenance with when it’s been suggested.”
Additional reporting by agencies