May 23, 2020 / 3:40 AM / 5 days ago

Australia calls on younger people to get virus tests as reopening accelerates

SYDNEY (Reuters) - Australia’s most populous state said on Saturday it recorded just three new cases of the coronavirus the previous day and urged younger people to get tested as it prepares to further loosen restrictions on pubs and restaurants.

FILE PHOTO: Police officers patrol near the Sydney Opera House following the implementation of stricter social-distancing and self-isolation rules to limit the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, April 6, 2020. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

New South Wales (NSW), which includes the city of Sydney, is home to nearly half Australia’s roughly 7,100 coronavirus cases and plans to let pubs and restaurants host up to 50 seated patrons from June 1, from 10 now.

That has prompted health officials to remind people to maintain social distancing measures and increase testing to prevent a “second wave” of infections.

“As we move forward and as we try to relax the restrictions that we have lived under for the past two months, it is ... absolutely crucial that people come forward for testing if they have the slightest hint of any respiratory issues,” NSW health minister Brad Hazzard said in a televised news conference.

“As we are freeing up our restrictions, particularly around clubs and hotels and so on, we need (to send) a very powerful message ... that these young people who may think they are invincible are actually not invincible,” he added.

NSW has recorded a total of 3,086 coronavirus cases and has recorded nearly half the country’s total deaths which rose by one to 102 on Saturday. No. 2 state Victoria, where the latest death occurred, reported nine new infections in the previous day. The third-most populous state, Queensland, reported two new cases.

Australia’s low number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, relative to many other countries, has been attributed mostly to a closure of national and state borders and a nationwide stay-home order now being unwound by states under a three-step federal plan.

Opposition lawmakers meanwhile criticised the federal government after it revealed on Friday an administrative error had vastly overstated its forecast expenditure for a wage subsidy scheme for workers left unemployed by the shutdown.

The Treasury Department said successful efforts to control the outbreak combined with errors on programme applications by about a 1,000 businesses meant only 3.5 million workers would need to be covered, at a cost of A$70 billion ($46 billion), not 6 million people at a cost of A$130 billion.

The Federal government has framed the error as a surprise benefit to the economy since it would likely reduce the forecast Budget deficit, while the opposition has called for the government to redirect the money to workers left out of the emergency welfare program.

“We need a calculation of what the figures are from this government on casuals, on the arts and entertainment sector, on other groups who have missed out, and some real figures on what the costings would be,” said Labor Party opposition leader Anthony Albanese.

Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Lincoln Feast.

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