The Australian state has the most important one-day surge in COVID-19 instances in 7 months

A key employee walks past a sign that reads “Please. Please.” On the first day of a five-day lockdown in Victoria state in response to a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia on February 13, 2021 stay at home ”over. REUTERS / Sandra Sanders

Australia’s second most populous state reported the largest increase in COVID-19 cases in one day in more than seven months on Wednesday, warning that the next 24 hours would be crucial in limiting the spread of a cluster without sticking to hard new curbs.

The six new cases were the largest daily increase in the southeastern state of Victoria since October 2020. Authorities warned that more than 300 close contacts of those affected had been identified, many of whom had visited crowded places.

“These cases are linked and that is a good thing, but we are very concerned about the number and types of exposure sites,” the state’s incumbent Prime Minister James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne.

“I cannot rule out taking further action.”

After an outbreak of more than 20,000 infections and 820 deaths, accounting for about 70% of cases and 90% of deaths nationwide, a strict lockdown ordered in Victoria last year lasted more than 100 days.

The city of five million on Tuesday reintroduced the curbs, which will contain mandatory masks in restaurants, hotels and other indoor spaces until June 4. The number of meetings was also limited.

Other Australian states moved Wednesday to restrict movement, with South Australia blocking all arrivals from Victoria.

The cluster has been traced back to an overseas traveler wearing a variant first found in India that had completed quarantine in South Australia, although officials haven’t figured out how it spread.

The nameless man tested negative in hotel quarantine and flew back to the state capital, Melbourne this month, but tested positive six days after arriving.

Authorities in Victoria believed they were holding back in the cluster, but a mistake in tracking the man’s movements has raised concerns that dozens of infections may have gone undetected for a few weeks.

Amid growing concern, the federal government announced it would send 40,000 doses of the vaccine from AstraZeneca (AZN.L) to Victoria to immunize those in elderly care facilities.

Australia’s quick contact tracing, local shutdowns, and tough social distancing have helped keep the numbers low compared to other developed countries.

But less than 10% of the population have been vaccinated due to supply issues and a policy change that allows those under 50 to receive the Pfizer vaccine.

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