A healthcare worker records a patient’s details at a coronavirus disease testing facility in Kilmore outside of Melbourne, Australia. File/Reuters
Australia’s second-most populous city will enter a five-day snap coronavirus lockdown, authorities said on Friday, barring spectators from the Australian Open tennis tournament for much of the Grand Slam event.
A fresh COVID-19 cluster linked to a quarantine hotel in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria state, reached 13 cases as of Thursday midnight as authorities rushed to quash the spread of the virus. Those infections includes the highly contagious UK variant.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced the lockdown for the state, starting at midnight on Friday, calling it a “short, sharp circuit breaker” banning public gatherings, home auctions, weddings and religious gatherings.
“We must assume that there are further cases in the community than we have positive results for, and that it is moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months,” Andrews told reporters.
Asked about the Australian Open, which runs through Feb.21, Andrews said the event was considered a workplace, subject to lockdown restrictions.
“There are no fans. There are no crowds. These people are essentially at their workplace,” he said. “The minimum number of staff for it to be run safely - not just for the virus but other reasons - will be there.”
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The event had already been limited to 50% of usual capacity.
Victoria endured one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns last year after an outbreak, which left more than 800 dead in the state, the vast majority of the national toll.
More broadly, Australia and neighbouring New Zealand have generally succeeded in containing the domestic spread of the coronavirus, thanks to hard border restrictions.
Australia has reported more than 22,000 local infections of the virus that causes COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since March. The country has ranked among the top 10 in a COVID performance index for its successful handling of the pandemic.
Ahead of the announcement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered his government’s full support for Victoria’s decisions on containing the outbreak.
“We have dealt with (outbreaks) in the last few weeks in Sydney and Brisbane and Perth, and so a proportionate response... enables tracers to be able to get on top of it and get the same successful result we have seen in other states,” Morrison told reporters.
Some of the world’s top tennis players including world No.1 Novak Djokovic have questioned the country’s enforced 14-day hotel quarantine, suggesting they should be allowed to complete the process in accommodation with tennis courts before the tournament which starts in Victoria state
An Australian court on Monday dismissed a challenge to a curfew that was imposed on the city of Melbourne to help curb the spread of COVID-19, ruling it was neither illegal nor irrational and did not violate the state’s human rights charter.
Other states and territories have recorded few or zero cases in recent weeks and are continuing to reopen their economies, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison told residents not to become complacent.
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