Australia’s second most populous state is entering the highest level of restrictions for the fourth time.
Authorities in Victoria are pulling out all the stops to stamp out a fast-growing coronavirus outbreak in the northern suburbs of Melbourne. Acting Premier James Merlino has announced that “circuit breaker” restrictions will take effect across the entire state from just before midnight tonight, and remain in place for the next seven days, until 11:59 p.m. on June 3. He says the number of local cases have doubled in just 24 hours to 26 infections, with one patient now in ICU. Contact tracers have so far identified 10,000 primary and secondary contacts linked to the outbreak, and more than 150 exposure sites have been found across the state, including the Melbourne Cricket Ground and Docklands Stadium.
Public health experts advised the administration to impose a statewide lockdown given the speed of the highly contagious B1.617.1 variant. Merlino said in his address, “We’ve seen other countries come up against these variants and lose. Badly. Places like Taiwan that have gone from no or very low cases to skyrocketing numbers in the space of just days and weeks — and now are struggling to get it under control.”
Victorians will only be able to leave their homes for food and essential supplies, authorized work, care and caregiving, exercise for up to two hours with one other person, and vaccination. Exercise and shopping must be done within five kilometers of their home address, with shopping limited to one person per day per household.
Outside the home, face masks must be worn both indoors and outdoors. Private and public gatherings will be banned, but visiting one’s intimate partner will be allowed, as are single person bubbles. Schools must close except for the children of authorized workers and vulnerable kids, though childcare and kindergartens will remain open. Non-essential businesses, alongside community facilities and entertainment venues, will have to be shuttered for the duration of the lockdown. Cafés and restaurants are only permitted to offer takeaway, while major sporting events can continue without spectators.
More than 25 domestic flights out of Melbourne are already canceled as other states impose internal travel restrictions to halt the potential spread of the virus. Western Australia and Tasmania have closed their borders to Victorians, while those entering Queensland must go into hotel quarantine. Similarly, arrivals in the Northern Territory with a travel history to greater Melbourne and Bendigo will have to undergo self-isolation. New South Wales has asked arriving Victorians to follow stay-at-home orders until the end of the seven-day lockdown. Across the Tasman Sea, New Zealand has now extended its suspension of the quarantine-free travel bubble with Victoria for another week.