Australian student, meat plant workers among new virus cases as curbs ease

SYDNEY (Reuters) – A school in the Australian city of Sydney was closed on Monday after a student tested positive for the coronavirus, while a testing blitz in neighbouring Victoria state returned 22 new cases, the biggest daily jump in weeks.

FILE PHOTO: A medical personnel administers tests for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at the Bondi Beach drive-through testing centre in Sydney, Australia, April 7, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott/File Photo

The positive test result for a seven-year-old boy was the only new case of the coronavirus in the country’s most populous state, New South Wales, state premier Gladys Berejiklian told reporters.

Local health authorities were trying to trace the source of the infection and the school would be closed for intensive cleaning, she added.

A campaign of wide community testing in neighbouring Victoria state, meanwhile, identified 22 new cases of the illness, of which 19 were connected to a meat processing plant, authorities said.

The Sydney school infection draws attention to the contentious question of whether children should attend school during the outbreak.

The Federal government has said schools should stay open since children carry a low risk of spreading the flu-like illness, while some state governments have said parents should seek to keep their children at home.

That debate has continued even as states start to ease restrictions on movement with the daily rate of infection increase slowing to a crawl, from about 25% seen a month earlier.

NSW, home to nearly half the country’s roughly 6,800 coronavirus infections, will reopen schools on a staggered basis, while neighbouring Victoria state has asked parents to keep children at home until the middle of the year.

The states are also moving at different speeds to lift movement restrictions: NSW has allowed people to make house visits in groups of up to two, while Victoria has said it will consider relaxing its stay-home order on May 11.

“This is a struggle and … it’s not easy to live this way, but none of us can assume, just because we’re frustrated, that this is over,” Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Monday. “This is far from over. We have to stay the course.”

The smaller state of South Australia, a popular tourism destination, meanwhile plans to lift a ban on interstate travel within days, the Australian newspaper reported on Monday.

The New Zealand Warriors rugby team arrived in Queensland state on Sunday and entered a mandatory two-week quarantine before the start of the Australian rugby league season on May 28, after a two-month delay due to the pandemic, media reported.

Australia has so far escaped the high numbers of casualties seen in other countries, with about 6,800 infections and 95 deaths.

The country’s second-largest bank, Westpac Banking Corp (WBC.AX), deferred a decision on whether to pay a half-year dividend because of uncertainty about the impact of the coronavirus. The bank posted a 70% drop in interim profit, partly due to charges related to the pandemic.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Sam Holmes

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