Australia’s second-largest city is set to enter its fourth lockdown at midnight as concerns are growing over the rapid spread of infection from the coronovirus variant
The seven-day lockout for the rest of Melbourne and the state of Victoria comes after a new cluster in the city grew to 26 infections, including one man who was in intensive care. Another 10,000 people have already had some degree of contact with infected people.
Victoria’s acting premier James Merlino said, “Unless something changes, it will be increasingly unchecked.”
The federal government declared Melbourne a hot spot, which empowers the city with additional federal resources. Prime Minister Scott Morrison said 218 military personnel were helping with the handling of the pandemic in Victoria and that more would be sent if Merlino asked.
Health Minister Greg Hunt described the lockdown starting at midnight as “highly regrettable, but necessary sanctions under current circumstances”.
Cafes and restaurants will only be able to offer takeout and schools will be closed. Professional sporting events will continue in Melbourne, but not without crowds.
Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said the variant was the same one identified in India and named by the World Health Organization as a type of concern. It was more permeable than some types.
The states of Western Australia and South Australia are restricting travel from Victoria and New Zealand has stopped quarantine-free travel to Melbourne.
Earlier this month, a new Melbourne cluster was found after an Indian passenger was infected at a hotel quarantine in the state of South Australia. The passenger was not diagnosed until returning home from Adelaide to Melbourne.
The city of 5 million people became Australia’s worst hot spot last year. 725 new cases of infection reached its peak in a single day in August, when the community spread was virtually eliminated elsewhere in the country.
That lockdown lasted for 111 days. The third lockout, which lasted five days in February, was initiated by a group of 13 cases involving hotel quarantine near Melbourne Airport.
Victoria accounts for 820 of Australia’s 910 coronavirus deaths.