Australia's Queensland state warns of possible COVID-19 lockdown

A volunteer directs a resident at a Covid-19 drive-through testing clinic in eastern Brisbane. Patrick HAMILTON / AFP

Australia's third most populous state said on Saturday it may order a snap lockdown after a cluster of COVID-19 cases, as the country posted a record one-day rise in daily infections.

Queensland state, home to more than 5 million people, said it had detected five new infections in the past 24 hours after a family tested positive. The next few days would be critical to see if a lockdown was warranted, authorities said.

"If we start seeing any seeding, then we may have to take very quick, fast action. But at the moment, it’s contained to the family," said state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk.

The family lives in Brisbane, the state's capital. It was not clear whether a lockdown would be limited to some parts of the state like previous orders.

New South Wales, home to Sydney and Australia's most-populous state, is under lockdown as are the cities of Melbourne and Canberra. A lockdown for Queensland would be another blow to Australia's A$2 trillion ($1.5 trillion) economy, which could slip into a second recession in as many years.

Australia on Saturday posted 2,077 infections, surpassing the previous day's record of 1,903. New South Wales, which has been under strict stay-at-home orders for nearly three months, said it detected 1,599 new infections.

Authorities warned people on Saturday to continue social distancing, but hot weather across Sydney saw scores of people head to the beach.

New South Wales Health Minister Brad Hazzard said police would be out checking whether people were within 5 km (3 miles) of their homes, as permitted under emergency rules.

Police and military personnel have for weeks been patrolling the streets of Sydney, issuing fines to those contravening health orders, such as wearing masks.

One person fined was former Prime Minister Tony Abbott, who confirmed on Saturday he had been ordered to pay A$500 after being pictured not wearing a mask.

"I believe that I was well within the law, reasonably interpreted. But I'm not going to challenge the fine because I don't want to waste the police's time any further," Abbott told reporters in Sydney.

"I never thought that dobbing and snitching was part of the Australian character and I think that the sooner we can leave this health police-state mindset behind us, the better for everyone."

In neighbouring Victoria, authorities reported 450 new locally acquired cases, the biggest one-day rise in locally acquired cases in more than a year.

Australia has now recorded nearly 73,000 COVID-19 cases and a death toll of 1,084.

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