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Australia orders six-week closure of Melbourne businesses amid outbreak

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THE Australia government has said it is ordering non-essential businesses in Melbourne, its second-largest city, to close for six weeks starting Wednesday as authorities try to control an outbreak that accounts for nearly all of the country’s new coronavirus cases.

  Health officials reported Monday 429 new COVID-19 infections and 13 deaths in Victoria state, which includes Melbourne.

  In addition to closing most stores, other industries such as construction and meat production will have to limit their operations starting Friday.

  The Victoria government declared a COVID-19 disaster in Melbourne on Sunday, and with the new restrictions going into effect, Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Monday that workers in Victoria who do not have paid sick leave and have to isolate themselves will be eligible to receive a payment of about $1,000.

  Such payments are meant to encourage people to abide by advice that they stay home if they test positive, exhibit symptoms or may have been exposed to the virus, instead of feeling financial pressure to keep working and possibly expose others.

  “It’s heartbreaking. This pandemic, this virus is taking a heavy toll and now’s the time, as it has been throughout this pandemic, that we continue to provide support to one another,” Morrison said.

  Medical groups in the country had asked for the reimposition of restrictions in order to allow health workers under the strain of caring for coronavirus patients a chance to regroup and for the government to recalibrate its efforts in response to the pandemic.

  “Our health care workers are burnt out with the seemingly endless number of patients trooping to our hospitals,” the medical groups said in a letter to Duterte.

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