SYDNEY - Senior government officials in the Australian state of Victoria will Tuesday appear at a parliamentary inquiry into the response to the COVID-19 crisis. Premier Daniel Andrews and other colleagues are expected to face questions about security breaches in the hotel quarantine system for travelers returning from overseas. Australia has had 21,397 confirmed coronavirus infections. 313 people have died.
Australia has equaled its deadliest day of the coronavirus pandemic so far. 19 people in the state of Victoria have died in the past 24-hours, and 331 new infections have been reported.
The city of Melbourne is in lockdown until mid-September, and a night-time curfew is in place. Its streets are almost deserted, as millions of people are forced to stay at home. Only essential businesses can stay open.
19 deaths were recorded in Victoria in the past 24-hours, equalling Australia's deadliest day, so far.
But with daily new infections near a two-week low there is hope that the tide may be turning.
Dr. Nick Coatsworth is Australia's Deputy Chief Medical Officer.
"This is about Victorians, particularly those under stage four restrictions, but also those under stage three restrictions, getting reward for their efforts and when we do see it, I think we will all be very happy to see that curve inflect downwards again," he said.
There are claims that infected passengers returning from overseas have been responsible for the second surge of infections in Victoria. Foreign nationals are banned from Australia, but citizens and permanent residents can return home. They face a mandatory 14-day period in hotel isolation.
State premier Daniel Andrews is due to face a committee of lawmakers about security flaws that allowed passengers who had tested positive for COVID-19 to spread the virus into the community. A separate judicial inquiry into the hotel quarantine system has heard that security flaws were responsible for Victoria's recent wave of infections.
The psychological impact of the pandemic in Victoria is also emerging. The number of patients seeking mental health treatment in hospitals has increased sharply.
The state's health minister is Martin Foley.
"For young people under 18 we have seen a 33 percent increase in presentations for people with self-harm in emergency departments," he said.
Dozens of people have been fined for ignoring the curfew in Melbourne and refusing to wear a mask.
Victoria is at the center of Australia's COVID-19 crisis. Neighboring New South Wales has Tuesday recorded 22 new infections - its highest daily number in almost four months - as a cluster linked to a school in Sydney continues to rise.
The disease appears to be under control in other Australian states and territories.