Melbourne is hit with five-day lockdown over UK strain

Australia’s Victoria state is hit with five-day lockdown after ‘UK strain’ of Covid-19 leaks from quarantine hotel: Shoppers panic-buy and fans are banned from Australian Open due to cluster of 13 cases

  • Outbreak has been blamed on infections leaking from a Melbourne airport hotel
  • Five-day ‘circuit breaker’ is meant to stop a repeat of last year’s long lockdown 
  • Australian Open is designated as a ‘workplace’ for players but with no spectators

Melbourne and the state of Victoria are entering a five-day lockdown meaning fans will be barred from much of the Australian Open after a cluster of 13 coronavirus cases linked to the feared UK variant. 

The outbreak has been blamed on infections leaking out from an Australian quarantine hotel – days before Britain brings in a similar system at the border.

Daniel Andrews, the premier of the state of Victoria, said the statewide lockdown was a ‘short, sharp circuit breaker’ to prevent a repeat of last year’s 111-day shutdown in Melbourne following another hotel outbreak.

The measures include a temporary closure of schools as well as a ban on gatherings at homes or churches, while masks will be required everywhere – and the announcement has already led to a return of panic-buying at supermarkets. 

Tennis players can continue competing at the Australian Open, which will be designated a ‘workplace’, but fans will be shut out during the lockdown.  

Melbourne ‘s Covid cluster has now climbed to 13 cases after five more positive tests linked to the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport (pictured) were recorded

A hotel quarantine worker without a mask at the Intercontinental on Collins Street in Melbourne. The picture, which was taken by a guest and sent to Nine News on Friday, has sparked fresh concern about Australia’s hotel quarantine system 

Australia’s infection rate is still extremely low compared to most wealthy countries – after a major wave of cases and deaths in Victoria last summer which was similarly blamed on virus cases leaking out of hotel quarantine 

Fans arriving at the Australian Open on Friday before the lockdown took effect were instructed at the entrance to maintain social distancing, sanitise their hands and pull their masks up over their noses.   

Tournament chief Craig Tiley said he was hopeful fans would be permitted back on site in the latter half of next week, provided the lockdown ‘has done its job.’ 

Australia is one of the few places in the world where large crowds have been permitted at sports events, with strict border controls keeping virus deaths down to 909 out of a population of 25million. 

But the quarantine hotels have been seen as a weak link, with Andrews suggesting that Australians abroad should only be allowed to return for compassionate reasons.

‘Should we be having the total number of people coming home? Or should it be a much smaller program that’s based on compassionate grounds? That’s a conversation we should have,’ he said. 

‘This is the second lockdown caused by Victoria’s hotel quarantine system, it must not be as long and destructive as the last,’ said the head of Australia’s business lobby, Jennifer Westacott. ‘We must get hotel quarantine working properly.’ 

Up to 500 people have been deemed ‘close contacts’ of the 13 confirmed cases ta the Holiday Inn. 

About 135 of them included quarantine workers at the Holiday Inn and returned travellers. 

And fresh concerns about the system have been raised after a worker at the Intercontinental on Melbourne’s Collins Street was pictured walking through the hotel without a mask on Friday. 

Workers in full PPE disinfects the Holiday Inn Hotel Melbourne Airport which has been blamed for the latest outbreak in Victoria 

Supermarkets in Victoria were packed on Friday afternoon as residents rushed to stock up on supplies ahead of a five-day coronavirus lockdown

Victoria’s latest outbreak began on Monday when a hotel quarantine worker at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport caught the virus on Monday. Pictured: Panic buying

Coles and Woolworths stores were rammed with shoppers buying food and essentials. Pictured: Empty shelves in a Coles

Ahead of the lockdown announcement, prime minister Scott Morrison offered his government’s full support for Victoria’s decisions on containing the outbreak. 

‘I think that proportionate, targeted responses are the most effective way to deal with this,’ he said. 

Other states including Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania that have practically eliminated the virus, closed their borders to Victoria. 

Sydney’s state of New South Wales, which recorded a 26th day with zero community cases on Friday, has so far kept its borders open.

Victoria endured one of the world’s longest lockdowns last year after an outbreak that killed more than 800 in the state, the vast majority of the national death toll. 

Two other Australian state capitals, Brisbane and Perth, recently underwent similar snap lockdowns in response to cases of the UK strain leaking from hotel quarantine.

In both instances, the outbreak was quickly contained. 

Andrews, the Victoria premier, said the virus was likely ‘moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months’. 

He explained he decided to include regional Victoria in the lockdown to stop Melbourne residents fleeing to the countryside and taking the virus with them. 

‘I know this will be difficult. I know it will be painful. But there is no option. This things moves so fast,’ he said.  

Two fans enjoying the final day of the Melbourne Open before lockdown. The tournament will proceed without fans from Saturday

Fans enjoyed Friday at the Australian Open – the last day before lockdown

Andrews added: ‘We must assume that there are further cases in the community than we have positive results for. 

‘We will be able to smother this. We will be able to prevent it getting away from us. 

‘I want to be here on Wednesday next week announcing that these restrictions are coming off, but I can’t do it on my own. I need every single Victorian to work with me.’

But the premier warned the state’s contact tracing team was struggling due to the rapid spread of the virus. 

‘By the time we find a case as positive, they’ve already infected their close contacts. Their family. People they live with, people they’ve spent time with. That makes it incredibly difficult, incredibly difficult to do contact tracing,’ he said. 

The so-called Stage Four restrictions introduced during the Southern Hemisphere winter have been re-imposed with residents confined to their homes except for two hours of exercise, essential shopping, care-giving and work. 

Schools will be closed, masks must be worn everywhere except in the home and private and public gatherings are banned. 

Supermarkets in Victoria were packed on Friday afternoon as residents rushed to stock up on supplies ahead of the five-day lockdown. 

Asked about the Australian Open, Andrews said: ‘There are no fans. There are no crowds. These people are essentially at their workplace.’

‘The minimum number of staff for it to be run safely – not just for the virus but other reasons – will be there.’

The event had already been limited to 50 per cent of usual capacity and was dogged by earlier complaints from some tennis stars, who were forced to spend critical preparation time in quarantine.   

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