Victorians plunged into week-long lockdown from midnight amid growing COVID cluster

Victorians will be plunged into a week-long lockdown from 11.59pm Thursday as the state government scrambles to contain a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne’s north.

Face masks will be mandatory in both indoor and outdoor settings, except for at home.  

Schools will also close and move to remote learning, except to care for the children of essential workers, but childcare will remain open.

Supermarkets and essential services like pharmacies, petrol stations and banks will remain open but restaurants, pubs and cafes will be limited to take-away.

Victorians will only be able to leave home for five reasons: to get food and supplies, for care and care giving, for authorised work, to exercise, or to get vaccinated.

Exercise and shopping will be limited to five kilometres from a resident’s home. Exercise will also be capped at two hours each day, with only one other person. 

Weddings will be banned except under extenuating circumstances such as end of life or deportation reasons.

Religious services will also be barred unless it’s for broadcast with a maximum of five people present.

Acting Premier James Merlino said the past 24 hour period was critical to the decision to impose a lockdown – the state’s fourth so far.

“If we make the wrong choice now, if we wait too long, this thing will get away from us,” he told reporters on Thursday, announcing the lockdown.

It came as the state recorded 11 new cases in the 24 hours to Thursday, after the COVID-19 cluster in Melbourne’s north expanded to 26 infections.

Contact tracers are now dealing with more than 10,000 primary and secondary contacts of COVID-19 cases and more than 150 exposure sites right across the state.

Mr Merlino said it would be a “circuit breaker” lockdown with the virus spreading at a “super quick pace”.

The public health advice was that the seven-day period was required, he added.

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said authorities were dealing with the highly-infectious B161 variant.

“When we see a member become infected, almost all the household is infected,” Professor Sutton said.

“It really is rapid and that’s led to the exponential increase.”

Over 40s to be given vaccines

Mr Merlino also announced vaccinations will be expanded to those over 40 years old for the Pfizer vaccine.

He urged anyone over 40 years old to get the jab as soon as possible.

“The reason why we are dealing with this outbreak today is because of a hotel breach in South Australia,” he said.

“We have had breaches in hotel quarantine right around our country. The only way through this pandemic is everyone getting vaccinated as quickly as you are eligible.”

Earlier, the federal government announced it would release tens of thousands of more vaccines to Victoria.

Mr Merlino pointed to the delays in the commonwealth vaccine rollout.

“If we had the vaccine, the Commonwealth’s vaccine program effectively rolled out, we may well not be here today.”

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