The Australian government will halve the number of citizens allowed to return home from overseas every week to take pressure off the country's quarantine system as it struggles to contain an escalating coronavirus outbreak.
The state of Victoria, which includes the city of Melbourne, reported 288 new cases on Friday, a record daily increase for any part of the country.
There are now fears of a wave of community transmission in a country where most cases have involved returned travellers.
"The news from Victoria remains very concerning," Prime Minister Scott Morrison told reporters in Canberra. The authorities in Victoria tested 37,000 people in 24 hours in a bid to get a handle on the situation, revealing the spike in infections.
Since March, Australia has allowed only citizens and permanent residents to enter the country with some 357,000 having returned to date.
Australia will now impose a cap of 4,175 people allowed to return each week and those returning will also have to pay for a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a hotel, which until now had been paid for by state governments.
"The decision that we took... was to ensure that we could put our focus on the resources needed to do the testing and tracing and not have to have resources diverted to other tasks," Morrison said.
Premier Daniel Andrews announced the A$3 million investigation in response to a number of clusters being linked to security guards two quarantine hotels, and allegations that the guards were poorly trained and equipped by private security contractors.
The hearings will begin with opening statements by the judge in charge, Jennifer Coate, and counsel assisting Tony Neal QC. They will be live-streamed for the public, but there will be no immediate questioning of witnesses.
Victoria's northern and western borders are now closed, and Queensland has banned Victorians from entering. Western Australia's border has remained closed for several weeks.
Tens of thousands of permits have been issued to Victorians in border communities who need to cross for work and other reasons.
In Melbourne, 16 fines totalling $27,000 have been issued to party goers who violated the city's strict lockdown.
Police tracked the group after it was discovered that two people ordered around 20 meals at a KFC store in Dandenong about 1.30am on Friday. Ambulance workers at the store noticed the large order and notified police, who followed the car to a townhouse at which party goers initially tried to hide in the backyard, garage and under beds.
Victorian police commissioner Shane Patton on Friday told local media: "That is absolutely ridiculous that type of behaviour, and it's a very expensive night."
'Troubling' cases emerge in NSW
Residents in Sydney's southwest have been warned to look out for signs of Covid-19 after two cases were found to have visited the same hotel in the area.
NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard said a 30-year-old woman and a man in his 50s tested positive to the virus after visiting the Crossroads Hotel in Casula.
The woman tested positive a few days ago but the man only returned a positive test result today.
Hazzard also flagged another "troubling" virus case that was diagnosed after a man in his 20s visited the Sutherland area from Melbourne.
The man drove from Melbourne and entered NSW on July 7, and has reported minimal contact with anyone in NSW apart from his partner and two friends.
"New South Wales runs the risk at the moment of people coming out of particularly the Melbourne area, if they have ducked out of Melbourne, perhaps just before our new laws came in, our new orders, or perhaps they have come out since the orders, you would know that you are potentially a risk to the community of New South Wales," he said.
- with news.com.au