Victoria has entered another coronavirus lockdown, its fourth since the beginning of the pandemic, as health authorities scramble to stop an outbreak of 26 cases from growing out of control.
Labelled a “circuit breaker” lockdown by acting Victorian Premier James Merlino, the statewide stay-at-home order came into force at midnight on Thursday and is set to remain in place for seven days.
It means Victorian residents will only be able to leave their home to purchase essential supplies, get vaccinated, attend permitted work, exercise, or to care for another person or receive care. Residents are also permitted to visit their intimate partner, a single “social bubble buddy”, or leave their home in an emergency.
Permitted travel must only occur within a five-kilometre radius of a person’s place of residence and shopping will be limited to one person per household, per day. Face masks will be mandatory in indoor and outside public spaces.
Schools will also be closed, and cafes and restaurants will return to takeaway only.
It will be familiar territory for Melburnians, who were subject to Australia’s longest-running COVID-19 lockdown last year when hundreds of cases were being recorded each day and residents were forced into their homes for a total of 112 days.
Similar to the state’s long-running second lockdown, this round of cases could also be the result of a hotel quarantine leak.
The Victorian infections have been linked through genomic sequencing to the case of a Melbourne man who contracted the virus while quarantining in South Australia, before travelling to Victoria where he tested positive.
By the time 11 new cases were announced on Thursday, the number of primary and secondary contacts had sky-rocketed to more than 10,000 people and Mr Merlino warned the situation was becoming “increasingly uncontrollable”.
“In the last day, we’ve seen more evidence that we’re dealing with a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern which is running faster than we have ever recorded,” he said.
All 26 cases have been identified as the new B.1.617 variant, first detected in India, which Victorian Chief Medical Officer Brett Sutton said was “spreading rapidly”.
One person infected with the variant on average will infect five others, he said.
Health authorities have also identified more than 100 potential exposure sites, including Marvel Stadium, Melbourne Cricket Ground, and a number of bars.
Chief executive of the Australian Business Council, Jennifer Westacott, on Thursday said it was essential this lockdown was “not as long and destructive” as the second and called on the government to fix the hotel quarantine system and improve contact tracing.
“The health challenge comes first, and this is clearly a serious outbreak, but Victorians will rightly be asking how it came to this again,” she said.
“Behind these lockdowns are families and communities being expected to bear the brunt yet again.”
Mr Merlino conceded the lockdown would be tough for business owners and event organisers, but flagged that support would be announced in the coming days.
“My message to Victorians is we can do this because we’ve done it before. This is our fourth lockdown, we know the drill,” he said.