Victoria has recorded a record 17 deaths from coronavirus and 394 new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday.
Premier Daniel Andrews said 174 of the cases were those with no known close contact who was already infected – describing the mystery infections as the state’s ‘biggest challenge’.
‘They’re the ones that are incredibly challenging from a containment point of view, and that’s what’s made fundamentally necessary these really very challenging settings,’ he said.
The daily infection total dropped below 400 cases after 450 infections on Friday and 466 on Saturday, a marked decrease from the state’s record of 725 cases on Wednesday.
The new deaths – ten of which were linked to the aged care sector – include two men in their 50s, four men in their 70s, four women and two men in their 80s and two women and three men in their 90s.
Victoria and Australia’s previous deadliest day during the pandemic had been on Wednesday when 15 deaths were recorded.
COVID-19 has now claimed 210 lives in Victoria since the pandemic began. The national death toll stands at 295.
Mr Andrews on Sunday also announced the state was setting aside another $250,000 – on top of the $350,000 promised in June- to provide free counselling for health workers on the front line of the COVID-19 crisis.
The Victorian premier and Mental Health Minister Martin Foley revealed the measures as part of $59.7million in additional funding for the state’s mental health sector.
‘This is a very challenging set of circumstances and particularly for those nurses and personal care workers who have gone into aged care settings in fundamental crisis,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘You can’t unsee what you’ve seen.’
Mr Andrews responded to claims he was a ‘tyrant’ because of the ongoing stage-four lockdown by the founder of a lawn-mowing business.
Jim Penman of Jim’s Mowing had argued there had been no cases where someone working in a garden on their own had led to an infection.
The under-fire premier argued that if every person argued they were ‘low risk and should get a pass’ then Melbourne and Victoria might as well be under the same relaxed restrictions as they were in July and June.
‘That will just mean that we have zero chance, like no chance whatsoever, of driving these numbers down,’ he said.
The rise to 7,854 active cases in Victoria comes as the state’s police force battles to enforce Melbourne’s unprecedented stage-four lockdown – having issued 268 fines for restriction breaches in the past 24 hours.
One case involved a man who said he was helping a friend move a television from Doncaster East to Dandenong in Melbourne’s east and was planning to stop for a burger at a fast food outlet.
Another was a man found with four male friends who were visiting him in his bungalow in Mount Alexander, which is subject to stage three restrictions.
Police said the reason he gave for breaching the rules on home gathering – which ban all visits in Melbourne unless they are to deliver care or urgent and essential services – was they wanted to ‘watch the footy’.
Only two people turned up to a ‘freedom rally’ to protest the lockdown in Melbourne, despite up to 400 people being expected to kick off the illegal protest on the steps of Parliament on Sunday.
Footage shows a masked protester yelling for residents to stand together against mandatory vaccinations.
Earlier on Sunday, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk revealed her state had recorded no new cases of the virus.
University of Queensland virologist Professor Ian Mackay had warned this weekend was vital for the Sunshine State in suppressing the spread of COVID-19.
‘It is a critical weekend it is possible people may have been incubating illnesses during the week and thought I will hold off to get tested until the weekend,’ he said.
‘We need to put as much time behind us as we can to be absolutely sure that there are not little clusters out there that have been percolating or incubating and about to flare up.’
In New South Wales, 10 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 in the 24 hours to 8pm.
One was from a returned international traveller, seven were close contacts of known cases and two were ‘mystery cases’ with no link made yet to known infections.
A COVID-19-positive healthcare worker was infectious on shift at Hornsby Hospital’s emergency department on Sydney’s upper-north shore, while another was a student at the Tangara School for Girls in the city’s north-west.
All students and staff at the school have been told to get tested and self-isolate until August 21 – remaining so even if a negative result is returned.
Australian finance minister Mathias Cormann meanwhile said on Sunday morning he now supported Western Australia’s border closure – having initially criticised state governments imposing unnecessary harm ‘for no or very little public health upside’.
‘Given what’s been happening in Victoria and where the country is at, we support the current state border arrangements, including here in Western Australia,’ he told ABC’s Insiders.
On Saturday Mr Andrews announced 466 new cases as the state’s COVID-19 death toll climbed to 193, with the national tally rising to 278.
Mr Andrews warned Victoria is not likely to see a steep decline in coronavirus infections for ‘a little while’ amid strict stage four lockdown.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the state was seeing a ‘stabilisation’ of cases with daily number around the 400 and 500 mark each day.
‘That is not good enough but it’s a positive that we have averted an exponential increase through the last couple of weeks,’ he said.
Professor Sutton said the introduction of stage three restrictions in early July had prevented about 20,000 cases developing.
‘But we can’t have 500 cases every single day and the associated morbidity, hospitalisation, intensive care requirements and debts associated with that number every day,’ he said.
‘Stage four restrictions will make a difference but we won’t see them for another week or more.’
The tough stay-at-home restrictions, which include an 8pm-5am curfew for metropolitan Melbourne, have been in place for almost a week.
There are also fears Victorians could be left without medicine, alcohol and school supplies after major businesses were closed by the state’s stage four lockdown.
Australia Post was told it could keep open 200 outlets facing closure but the business is struggling to operate with just two thirds of its staff.
Chief executive Christine Holgate said there could be long delays as demand for deliveries soars amid Melbourne’s strict Stage 4 lockdown.
She said that demand in coronavirus-stricken suburbs was already up 200 per cent and orders from Chemist Warehouse, Dan Murphy’s and Office Works were under pressure.
Ms Holgate said Australia Post was responsible for deliveries for 200,000 online businesses and had a team of 21,000 people in Victoria.
‘All the major medical distribution centres are based in Victoria. API, Sigma – they supply pharmacies right across the country,’ Ms Holgate told the Australian Financial Review.
New South Wales reported nine new coronavirus infections on Saturday.
Of those cases, two were international travellers in hotel quarantine, four were locally acquired and three have no known source.
There are fears NSW is preparing for a second outbreak of infections with nine cases identified over the past week not linked to known clusters.