Australia’s Prime Minister Scott Morrison has cancelled the next planned sitting of the federal parliament in Canberra due to the growing spread of COVID-19 cases, especially in the country’s two largest cities of Melbourne and Sydney.
Morrison announced on Saturday he was cancelling the sitting on the advice of the chief medical officer who warned of “a significant risk” in allowing politicians to come to Canberra, due to increased community transmission of the virus in Melbourne and Sydney.
“The government cannot ignore the risk to parliamentarians, their staff, the staff within the parliament and the broader community,’’ Morrison said in a statement.
In Canberra, the number of COVID-19 cases was zero for weeks, until several arrivals from Melbourne brought new cases in July.
The parliament, due to return on Aug. 4, will now return on Aug. 24.
Opposition Labour Leader, Anthony Albanese, accepted that the prime minister’s decision was based on medical advice, but said he is disappointed the government will be avoiding scrutiny.
On Thursday, the government plans to lay out its post-pandemic economic recovery plan, which would have been a topic of discussion in the parliament.
Victoria, the state of which Melbourne is the capital, on Saturday reported 217 new COVID-19 cases and two deaths – both people aged in their 80s – Premier Daniel Andrews said.
The new figures come a day after the state reported three deaths and 428 new virus cases, which was the highest ever single-day increase in the country since the pandemic began.
The state’s outbreak, which has been mostly community transmission, started late last month and health authorities are testing more than 20,000 people a day.
The increase is said to have been due to security lapses in hotel quarantine for people returning to Melbourne from overseas.
A total of 405 health care officers have been infected, including 11 that tested positive overnight, health authorities said on Saturday.
More than 150 police officers have also been put in self-isolation after potentially being exposed to the virus.
While other parts of Australia have been relaxing restrictions, Victoria’s borders have been shut from other states.
About five million Melburnians have been asked to stay home unless for essential work and to wear a mask in public.
Overnight, there were 15 new cases in New South Wales, with most cases in Sydney, state health authorities said on Saturday.
A man from Melbourne is responsible for increased cases in Sydney, which are largely related to a cluster at a pub in the city’s south-west.
So far, at least 45 cases have been linked to the venue.
The latest spike forced the New South Wales government to ban dancing, singing and mingling at weddings with caps at 150 people.
Restrictions have also been re-imposed for funerals and places of worship, which can now only have 100 people.
The latest spikes in Melbourne and Sydney have dampened Australia’s status as one of the countries on the way to eradicate COVID-19.
Australia has recorded more than 11,000 coronavirus cases and 118 COVID-19-related deaths.