Victorian authorities are expecting an outbreak of the UK strain of coronavirus from a quarantine hotel to grow, as the state enters the first day of a snap lockdown called on Friday in a bid to dampen community transmission.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the outbreak, which started with a family of three at Melbourne Airport’s Holiday Inn, was “moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months”.
The outbreak remained at 13 cases on Friday night, but health authorities believe there are more cases in the community yet to be detected, which is the rationale for plunging the state into five days of stage 4 restrictions in a bid to provide a “circuit-breaker”.
The harsh restrictions which dominated Melbourne’s second-wave lockdown are now in force across the whole state, meaning Victorians cannot leave their homes except for the four main reasons of shopping for essential supplies, care and caregiving, limited exercise and essential work.
When Victorians do step outside their homes, a mask must be worn at all times, including indoor and outdoor settings.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said while the snap lockdown would come at a financial and emotional cost to the community, an alternative scenario where the outbreak got out of control would be “devastating”.
Business groups were dismayed by the announcement and have increased advocacy for a national framework to try to avoid scenarios where sudden, short lockdowns continued to hurt businesses.
Exposure sites linked to the Holiday Inn outbreak include the entirety of Melbourne Airport Terminal 4 between 4:45am and 2:00pm on Tuesday, when authorities estimate up to 5000 people passed through the terminal.
On Friday night, the Victorian government announced a freeze on international passenger flights which would begin from today, excluding flights already in transit.
The Premier also suggested recent hotel quarantine infection control breaches around Australia had highlighted the difficulties of containing the UK strain and changes may be needed.
“This is not the 2020 virus, this is different, this is something very, very different,” he said.
Western Australia, South Australia and Tasmania have essentially shut their borders to Victoria as a result of the outbreak, while Queensland and the Northern Territory have listed Greater Melbourne as a hotspot.
There is no border closure with New South Wales, but anyone there who has been in Victoria since 29 January is being asked to isolate at home and follow the five-day lockdown rules that apply in Victoria.