- Victoria will be banned from midnight for five days
- 18 new cases related to Sydney Movers
- Sydney reports the lowest increase in new cases in five days
SYDNEY, July 15 (Reuters) – The Australian state of Victoria was ordered to a five-day lockdown Thursday after a spike in COVID-19 infections.
As of midnight, the state of 6.6 million people was told to stay home except for grocery shopping, important work, exercise, health care and vaccinations. The lockdown 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 population is on lockdown.
“You only have one chance to go hard and fast,” Victoria Prime Minister Daniel Andrews said at a televised press conference.
“If you wait, if you hesitate, if you doubt, you will always look back and wish you had done more sooner. I’m not ready to avoid a five-day lockdown now, only to have us in five weeks or a five-month lockdown. “
Melbourne spent about a third of 2020 under curfew as the epicenter of the country’s first outbreak, and suffered most of Australia’s 31,400 cases and 912 deaths to date.
But it had largely avoided new infections, while an outbreak in a suburb on Sydney Beach – 900 km (560 miles) north – spread rapidly across that city and the surrounding area over the past month.
That changed this week when a team of furniture movers traveled to Melbourne from Sydney while they were contagious and bringing the virus into an apartment building.
As of Thursday, dozens of Melbourne venues were listed as exposed to the virus, including a mall, public transportation and the famous Melbourne Cricket Ground stadium during a football game that was attended by thousands of people.
After nearly two weeks with no new case, the state had registered 18 new infections in the past two days, shocking authorities, who emphasized the ease with which the Delta variant can travel even between temporary contacts.
The neighboring state of South Australia reintroduced mandatory quarantine for people arriving from Victoria, while neighboring New Zealand also suspended quarantine-free arrivals from the state. With New South Wales already having a “travel bubble” break, most direct flights between countries are now effectively on the ground.
The Victoria lockdown came as New South Wales authorities reported a drop in daily cases, raising hopes that a lockdown in the Greater Sydney area since June 26 will not be extended beyond a scheduled end date later this month.
“While the number of cases fluctuates, we see a stabilization. They are not growing exponentially,” said Premier Gladys Berejiklian in Sydney.
Berejiklian described the new case numbers as a “welcome drop,” but warned that infections could increase due to the growing numbers of infected people moving around the community, particularly in southwest Sydney.
Case numbers would have to drop significantly for the city to exit the lockdown, as 28 of the 65 new infections reported were people who were active in the community, she added.
Of the more than 900 people in New South Wales who became infected during the recent outbreak, 73 were hospitalized, including 19 in intensive care. Two deaths have been reported, the first for the country this year.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, under pressure from a stuttering vaccination, said he would ask leaders at a pandemic cabinet meeting on Friday to approve a new program of aid payments to lockdown businesses.
Lockdowns “should be a last resort, but sometimes you can get into that position a lot faster with the Delta variant than you used to,” said Morrison.
Just over 12% of Australia’s adult population of around 20.5 million is full vaccinated, with officials alerting changes to medical advice on vaccines and supply shortages.
Reporting by Renju Jose, Jonathan Barrett, and Byron Kaye; Adaptation by Lincoln Feast.
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