Australia’s second most populous state, Victoria, reported a slight increase in locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Saturday as authorities searched for the source of a highly infectious variant discovered in a new cluster.
Five new local cases have been reported, bringing Victoria’s total to 70 in the most recent outbreak, including a recovered case as state capital Melbourne entered its second weekend of a tough lockdown that was slated to end June 10. The curbs were loosened for the rest of the state on Friday.
Saturday’s number had risen from four new locally acquired cases on Friday.
Authorities were alerted Friday after first discovering the highly contagious Delta COVID-19 virus variant in Australia, raising concerns that cases could increase.
The new cluster with delta variants has grown to nine active cases, up from two on Friday, including one case transferred to a workplace.
“The next few days will be critical, because we’ll see where this leads,” said state test commander Jeroen Weimar to reporters.
The Delta variant, classified by the World Health Organization (WHO) as one of the four worrisome COVID-19 variants based on evidence of easier spread, is one of the virus variants first detected in India.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said the Melbourne lockdown could be lifted later next week as long as all cases are tracked, even if the source of the Delta variant has still not been found.
“It’s challenging – portability, secondary attack rate is 50% higher than the Alpha variant, means you can test positive for a large number of people within one house and you can get those transmissions more easily in other environments. We can still manage it all, “he said.
Infectious disease expert Sharon Lewin, director of the Doherty Institute, which deals with genome testing of the virus, said her strong hypothesis is that the Delta variant got into the community through hotel quarantine but no match has yet been found.
Rapid lockdowns, regional border restrictions and strict social distancing rules have helped Australia contain previous outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just 30,150 cases and 910 deaths.
The Victoria outbreak, which began on May 24, has led people to join long lines for vaccinations after a slow introduction since February. To date, 20% of the adult population has received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
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