Australia’s Victoria state to enter COVID-19 lockdown after ‘highly infectious’ outbreak

SYDNEY: Australia’s second most populous state of Victoria will enter a one-week COVID-19 lockdown forcing its…

SYDNEY: Australia’s second most populous state of Victoria will enter a one-week COVID-19 lockdown forcing its near 7 million residents to remain home except for essential business as authorities struggle to contain a highly-infectious outbreak.

“We’re dealing with a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern, which is running faster than we have ever recorded,” Victoria state Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne.

“Unless something drastic happens, this will become increasingly uncontrollable.”

Merlino said contact tracers have identified more than 10,000 primary and secondary contacts who would need to quarantine, test and self-isolate, adding “that number will continue to grow and change”.

The fresh cluster of infections in Melbourne detected early this week swelled to 26 on Thursday after 12 new cases overnight, while the number of virus-exposed sites rose above 150.

Victoria state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he “absolutely expects” more positive cases to emerge in the coming days as the variant, first detected in India, was likely to be more virulent than the original strains.

READ: COVID-19: New Zealand halts travel bubble with Australian state of Victoria

The current strain can take one day to infect another person compared with earlier strains which can take about five or six days, Merlino said.

Under the lockdown, from 11.59 pm local time (9.59pm, Singapre time) on Thursday until Jun 3, people will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping, exercise or to get a coronavirus vaccination.

Several infected contacts have visited crowded hot spots that included sports stadiums and one of the largest shopping centres in the country, raising concerns of a significant outbreak days ahead of the winter season.

Other states and territories have responded to the lockdown by placing tougher border rules for travellers from Victoria.

READ: Australia urges over-50s to get jabbed as COVID-19 vaccine hesitancy grows

The states of Western Australia and Tasmania on Thursday closed their borders to Victorian residents following South Australia’s move a day earlier. The Northern Territory and Queensland state will ask travellers to undergo a mandatory two-week hotel quarantine.

New South Wales, Australia’s most populous state and which shares a border with Victoria, urged residents to defer non-urgent travel to Melbourne.

The lockdown comes just days after authorities reinstated coronavirus curbs for state capital Melbourne, limiting gathering sizes and making masks mandatory in restaurants, hotels and other indoor locations until Jun 4.

Officials have traced the latest cluster, the first in the state in more than three months, back to an overseas traveller infected with a variant first found in India, although the virus transmission path is still unclear.

The unnamed Victoria man tested negative after finishing his quarantine in neighbouring South Australia and flew to Melbourne this month but tested positive six days after he arrived.

Victoria endured one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns last year after a second wave of COVID-19 killed more than 800 people in the state, amounting for 90 per cent of Australia’s total deaths since the pandemic began.

Swift contact tracing, snap lockdowns and strict social distancing rules have helped Australia keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths.

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