Australia’s most populous state reports the first COVID-19 case in more than a month

© Reuters. FILE PHOTO: A medical worker dabs a member of the public at the Drive-Through Coronavirus Disease (COVID-19) testing center in Bondi Beach as the city experiences an outbreak on December 21, 2020 in Sydney, Australia. REUTERS / Loren Elliott

By Colin Packham and Renju Jose

CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia’s most populous state reported its first locally acquired COVID-19 case in more than a month on Wednesday, and health officials are working to track down the source of the infection.

Australia largely wiped out COVID-19, but a man in his fifties with no known ties to hotels quarantining people from overseas tested positive for the coronavirus on Tuesday, the New South Wales Department of Health (NSW) said a report with a statement.

It is NSW’s first local COVID-19 case since March 31.

The unnamed man visited several venues in the eastern suburbs of Sydney, the capital of NSW and Australia’s largest city, the ministry said.

Tests on the man showed that his viral load was higher than usual for other infected people, which may increase the likelihood that he spread the disease, the ministry said. The man has been considered contagious since April 30th.

“This is a cause for concern,” NSW chief health officer Kerry Chant told reporters in Sydney.

All of the man’s close contacts were instructed to self-isolate and be tested, Chant said.

The case increases the likelihood that social distancing restrictions will be re-imposed in NSW. Many of the curbs had been loosened as the local infections subsided.

Tests are currently underway to see if this case is genetically related to someone in the quarantine system or to cases in other states, Chant said.

Australia has taken a tough approach to containing the spread of COVID-19, including quick locks, border controls and quick contact tracing systems.

As a result, Australia has seen just over 29,800 cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began, and has gained worldwide recognition.

However, Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s decision to block all travel for two weeks from India, which is in the midst of a massive wave of COVID-19 infections, has received widespread criticism.

Anger increased after the government announced on Saturday that attempts to enter from India could be punished with imprisonment of up to five years and fines.

Australia has only allowed citizens and permanent residents to return for more than a year, though they must be under strict quarantine for two weeks upon entry.

Morrison defended the ban on Wednesday, insisting that it prevented hotel quarantine sites from being inundated with COVID-19 infections.

“This was a necessary step to ensure we can help more Australian citizens and residents get home safely without risking a third wave in Australia,” Morrison said during a news conference in Queensland state.

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