Australia’s second most populous state Victoria will enter a seven-day lockdown to counter a fast-spreading outbreak in its capital, Melbourne. The lockdown will begin at midnight on Thursday. Authorities have so far found 26 cases, and identified 150 sites where people may have been exposed to the virus.
Victoria’s acting Premier James Merlino said the outbreak involved a highly contagious strain of the virus, the B.1.617 variant. He added that the strain was spreading faster than ever recorded. Cases have been found across the state with links to a large number of venues in Melbourne. For the next seven days, Victorians will be required to stay at home except for essential work, shopping, exercise, caregiving or to get a Covid vaccine.
No gatherings are allowed and travel is restricted to within 5km of the home. Mask wearing will be mandatory. Schools will be closed except for children of essential workers. Places of worship and all non-essential venues will also be shut. Other Australian states are expected to limit movement from Victoria, with South Australia already blocking travellers from the state.
The new outbreak marks the biggest increase in community transmission of the virus since the state came out of a second wave in October 2020. That outbreak caused more than 20,000 infections and 820 deaths – about 70% of cases and most of the fatalities nationwide. The latest outbreak has been traced to an overseas traveller who tested negative while in quarantine in South Australia. Anyone arriving in Australia from abroad must also complete mandatory, 14-day quarantine.
Australia has also been slow to vaccinate its population, and the latest outbreak has prompted renewed calls for Australians to get their jab. The country’s COVID immunisation rollout has been beset with delays due to supply and logistical problems, as well as rising hesitancy to get the jab among some groups. So far, less than 10% of the population has been vaccinated.