MELBOURNE, Australia: Authorities have extended a coronavirus lockdown in Melbourne, Australia’s second-biggest city, for a week as part of efforts to stamp out a cluster of cases that emerged in Melbourne last month.
“We have right now 60 cases and over 350 exposure sites and a variant of the virus that is quicker and more contagious than we have ever seen before,” said James Merlino, the acting premier of the state of Victoria on Wednesday.
“Our teams are working harder than ever to test, trace, and isolate every case,” he told a news conference.
“If we let this thing run its course, it will explode. We’ve got to run this to the ground because if we don’t, people will die.”
With the extension of the lockdown, home gatherings will continue to be limited to five guests, while only 30 people will be allowed at public meetings, and face masks will be compulsory in indoor settings. Residents will be allowed to leave home to shop for groceries, work and study, exercise, fulfil caring responsibilities and get a Covid-19 vaccine.
Older students in Melbourne will be allowed to return to face-to-face classes, and their radius of travel will be extended from five kilometres to 10 kilometres.
Meanwhile, beyond the Greater Melbourne area, residents will be able to travel within non-metropolitan parts of the state and businesses will be allowed to reopen from midnight on Thursday (14:00 GMT on Wednesday).
Schools there will be able to resume in-person learning at all levels.
There have been no cases of community transmission in regional Victoria this week, the state said, allowing the easing of some restrictions.
Small events like weddings are also allowed as long as they are limited to 10 people per event, while religious ceremonies are capped at 50 people.
“Some things won’t change,” Merlino was quoted as saying. “Visitors to the home are still not OK. And we still need masks to be worn inside”.
“I know that this is not the news that everyone wants to hear from Melbourne today. But given the cases that we’ve had … the chief health officer had no choice but to put this advice to government, and the government had no choice but to accept that advice.”
In a social media post, Annastacia Palaszczuk, the premier of Queensland state, added, “The speed of the new variant in Melbourne is showing we can never let our guard down.”
Melbourne, the capital city of Victoria, reimposed Covid-19 restrictions last May 25 after nearly three months of the state reporting zero cases.
Victoria was the hardest-hit state during a second wave of the coronavirus last year, accounting for about 70% of total cases and 90% of deaths in Australia with care homes for the elderly badly hit.
The state brought the outbreak under control only after one of the world’s longest and toughest lockdowns.
Speedy tracing systems, movement curbs and social distancing have helped Australia contain Covid-19 outbreaks, recording 30,118 cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began.