Melbourne joins Sydney on lockdown as COVID-19 spreads in Australia
- Victoria will close for five days from midnight
- 18 new cases linked to Sydney furniture movers
- Sydney reports smallest increase in new cases in five days
SYDNEY, July 15 (Reuters) – The Australian state of Victoria was sentenced to a five-day lockdown on Thursday following a spike in COVID-19 infections, reaching Sydney as the two main population centers of the countries are battling an outbreak of the highly contagious delta variant.
As of midnight, the state of 6.6 million people was urged to stay home except for errands, essential jobs, exercise, healthcare and immunizations. The containment in Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, is the fifth since the pandemic began a year and a half ago.
Combined with a stay-at-home order already in place in Sydney, the measure means nearly half of Australia’s 25 million people are on lockdown.
“You only have one chance to go strong and go fast,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said at a televised press conference.
“If you wait, if you hesitate, if you doubt, then you will always look back wishing you had done earlier. five months.”
Melbourne spent around a third of 2020 under curfew as the epicenter of the country’s initial outbreak, suffering from most of Australia’s 31,400 cases and 912 deaths to date.
But it had largely averted further infections as an outbreak in a Sydney seaside suburb – 900 km (560 miles) north – quickly spread to that city and surrounding areas last month.
That changed this week when a team of furniture movers from Sydney traveled to Melbourne when it was contagious and brought the virus into an apartment building.
Dozens of Melbourne sites were listed as exposed to the virus on Thursday, including a shopping center, public transport routes and the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground during a football match that thousands attended.
After nearly two weeks without a new case, the state had recorded 18 new infections in the past two days, spooking authorities who stressed how easily the Delta variant can travel between even passenger contacts.
The neighboring state of South Australia has reintroduced mandatory quarantine for people arriving from Victoria, while neighboring New Zealand has also suspended arrivals without quarantine from the state. With a “travel bubble” break already in place with New South Wales, most direct flights between the countries are now effectively blocked.
The Victoria lockdown came as New South Wales authorities reported a drop in daily cases, raising hopes that a lockdown in place in Greater Sydney since June 26 will not be extended beyond an expected end date later this month.
“As the number of cases rebounds, we are seeing stabilization. They are not increasing exponentially,” Prime Minister Gladys Berejiklian said in Sydney.
Berejiklian described the new number of cases as a “welcome drop,” but warned that infections could increase due to the growing number of infected people moving through the community, particularly in southwest Sydney.
The number of cases would have to drop significantly for the city to exit the lockdown, given that 28 of the 65 new infections reported were people active in the community, she added.
Of the more than 900 people in NSW who were infected in the latest outbreak, 73 have been transferred to hospital, including 19 people in intensive care. Two deaths have been reported, the first for the country this year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, under pressure from a spray vaccination deployment, said he would ask heads of state at a pandemic cabinet meeting on Friday to approve a new aid payments program businesses affected by blockages.
Blockages “should be a last resort, but sometimes with the Delta variant you get to that position much faster than before,” Morrison said.
Just over 12% of Australia’s adult population of around 20.5 million have been fully vaccinated, with officials pointing to changing medical advice for vaccines and supply constraints.
Morrison is also expected to suggest using pharmacies earlier than expected to speed up vaccine rollout, a source familiar with the schedule told Reuters.
Australia previously expected pharmacies to start administering Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine around the end of September, although vaccine supply continues to be the main inhibitor.
Reporting by Renju Jose, Jonathan Barrett and Byron Kaye; edited by Lincoln Feast.
Our standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.