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Two Victorian men die from COVID-19, church doors shut again in Melbourne

Doors close: People unload food and provisions from the back of a ute, which was distributed by firefighters throughout a public housing tower in North Melbourne, last Tuesday. Nine towers in Flemington and North Melbourne were locked down in an effort to slow the spread of coronavirus, with 3000 residents unable to leave their apartments for any reason for at least five days. Photo: AAP

MELBOURNE Archbishop Peter Comensoli has directed churches to shut their doors again and has suspended the public celebration of Mass, which had only just recommenced, following COVID-19 outbreaks across parts of Victoria.

The directives were for parishes within metropolitan Melbourne and Mitchell Shire, which were placed back under stage three restrictions for the next six weeks from July 8.

Livestreamed Masses would return to those parishes while weddings and funerals would be “severely limited”.

“Now is a time for attentiveness to the care of one another,” Archbishop Comensoli said.

“In the face of our own despondency and fears, our fatigue and anxieties, may we learn to hold firm in faith and hope, and experience sustaining moments of love.”

South Melbourne parish administrator Capuchin Father John Spiteri, who lives in a house with three other Capuchins, said the coronavirus had caused “a lot of heartache for everyone across society”.

He said the returning restrictions were “very worrying because it’s causing untold distress both emotionally and it’s affecting people’s mentality”.

Fr Spiteri, who was Wynnum’s Guardian Angels parish priest for six years until 2018, said he has stood by Melbourne archdiocese and the state’s decision-making on locking down because it was safeguarding people’s health.

He said his parish was hoping and praying for a vaccine.

Two Victorian men, one in his nineties and the other in his sixties, both died in hospital from COVID-19 within 24 hours of each other last week.

Last Tuesday, Victoria recorded 191 new COVID-19 cases.

This was the largest single day of new infections since the outbreak began in January.

Since June 1, Australia has recorded 1448 infections – 1244 were from Victoria.

Current data suggests about half of Victoria’s recent cases spread locally, as opposed to being spread by returned travellers.

Two Victorian cases had also been detected at Kolbe Catholic College, Greenvale, in Melbourne’s north last week.

Both cases were students and contact tracing has begun.

Last Monday, 16 cases were directly detected in public housing towers but a total of 53 cases had been related to infections at those towers.

Nine public housing towers in inner Melbourne were declared under a “hard lockdown”.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the towers had “explosive potential” for spreading COVID-19.

Limited gathering: St Patrick’s Cathedral parishioners, suitably spaced, stand at Mass days before new directives were issued for Melbourne churches to be shut again in response to the current COVID-19 outbreak.

This was because the towers had a highdensity population.

Acting Australian chief medical officer Paul Kelly called them “vertical cruise ships”, likening their infectivity potential to the outbreaks on cruise ships like the Ruby Princess in early March.

Another 189 historical COVID-19 cases were added to Australia’s total tally on Saturday, belonging to crew members from the Ruby Princess because they had been obtained while docked in Sydney.

The NSW-Victoria border was shut on Wednesday.

Officials would monitor 55 ground crossings, including four major highways, 33 bridges and two waterways.

The rules were similar to those imposed in Queensland more than three months ago.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said there would be a permit system for people who needed to cross the NSW border.

Only those permit holders as well as emergency services workers, freight drivers and returning travellers would be allowed to enter NSW from Victoria.

While Australia experienced outbreaks in Victoria and NSW, the rest of the states remained relatively virus-free.

Tasmania had not recorded a single case in 51 days; Australian Capital Territory, 29 days; and Queensland, 10 days as at time of writing.

From Friday, the Queensland borders would be opened again to everyone except interstate travellers from Victoria.

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