People stroll through a park in front of the Sydney Opera House amid the pandemic in Sydney, Australia, May 20, 2020. /Reuters
Australia's second-most populous state Victoria said on Tuesday military personnel will be deployed to enforce COVID-19 isolation orders, with anyone caught in breach of those rules facing hefty fines as high as 20,000 Australia dollars (14,250 U.S. dollars).
Earlier this week, Victoria imposed a night curfew, tightened restrictions on people's daily movements, and ordered large parts of the local economy to close to slow the spread of the coronavirus.
But nearly a third of those who contracted COVID-19 were not home isolating when checked on by officials, requiring tough new penalties, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.
Andrews said 500 military personnel will be deployed to Victoria this week to bolster enforcement of self-isolation orders, with fines of nearly 5,000 Australia dollars (3,559 U.S. dollars) for breaching stay at home orders. The only exemption will be for urgent medical care.
Repeat offenders face a fine of up to 20,000 Australia dollars, he said.
Australia has recorded nearly 19,000 COVID-19 cases and 232 fatalities, far few than many other developed nations after closing its international borders early, imposing social distancing restrictions and mass virus testing.
But as the country began to reopen, community transmissions rose significantly in Victoria which has recorded triple digit new cases for weeks. It now has the bulk of infections in the country, with nearly 12,000 reported cases. On Tuesday, Victoria reported 439 new COVID-19 cases from the past 24 hours.
Andrews said 11 people had died from the virus since Monday, bringing the state’s death toll to 136. The virus has spread significantly throughout Victoria’s aged care facilities, with many deaths among the elderly.
Victoria state officials said the latest wave of COVID-19 infections has been driven by residents refusing to adhere to restrictions on their movements.
"There are a number of people who have knowingly breached the curfew – so somebody who decided they were bored and they were going to go out for a drive, somebody who decided that they needed to buy a car after 8 pm last night," Victoria Minister for Police Lisa Neville told reporters in Melbourne.
With concerns that many people feel they have no choice but to continue working after a COVID-19 diagnosis, Australia said on Monday it would pay people in the state 1,500 Australia dollars (1,069 U.S. dollars) to stay home if they were ordered to and they do not have leave entitlements.
Many internal state borders have been closed which has so far seen the new wave of infections predominately limited to Victoria, with neighboring New South Wales (NSW) state reporting the next highest number of cases.
NSW on Tuesday reported 12 new cases, though all the cases can be traced back to known outbreaks, some of which were started by infected people travelling from Victoria.
(With input from Reuters)