Australia’s parliament will be suspended for two weeks over fears that politicians could bring coronavirus from outbreak hotspots to the country’s capital, Prime Minister Scott Morrison announced Saturday.
The postponement comes a day after the nation’s second-biggest city reported a record rise in COVID-19 infections.
Citing medical advice, Morrison said the government could not ignore the risk that legislators might spread the disease to Canberra.
“The risks posed by a parliamentary sitting are significantly higher and unlikely to be resolved in the next month,” he said.
Canberra and its surrounding Australian Capital Territory continue like much of the country to control the virus but cases have been on the rise in Sydney and Melbourne.
The announcement means parliament will not reconvene until at least August 24, having resumed on June 8.
The main opposition party accepted the decision but described the loss of political oversight ahead of a government update on the economy Thursday as “problematic”.
“We expect to be consulted much further in advance from any decision being made than what’s occurred with these circumstances,” Labor Party leader Anthony Albanese told media in Sydney.
– ‘Shocked us all’ –
On Saturday officials in the southern state of Victoria, for which Melbourne is the capital, said the region had recorded more than 200 new coronavirus cases in the last 24 hours following a rise on Friday of 438.
“217 is much better than a number above 400, but it’s a number that would have shocked us all a month ago,” Victoria’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said.
“We need to remember it’s still a high number.”
Melbourne is battling a recent surge that has seen more than five million residents placed on lockdown.
The outbreak has also spread to Sydney, Australia’s biggest city, where there have been growing numbers of locally transmitted cases after an initial cluster erupted from an infected Melbournian who visited a popular pub.
Nationwide Australia has reported more than 11,400 cases of COVID-19 so far in a population of about 25 million, with 118 deaths from the illness.
The vast majority have been in Victoria and neighbouring New South Wales, the country’s most populous state and home to Sydney.
Other regions have not reported any new local infections in weeks.