Nearly seven million people in Australia’s second-most populous state of Victoria will start a snap lockdown on Thursday night, as officials blame a sluggish vaccine rollout and hotel quarantine failures for a fresh virus outbreak that doubled overnight to 26 cases.
Victoria state Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne that from 11:59 pm (13:59 GMT), people will only be allowed to leave their homes for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping or exercise.
The order will remain in place for seven days.
“In the last day, we’ve seen more evidence we’re dealing with a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern, which is running faster than we have ever recorded,” Merlino said.
The authorities tightened limits on domestic and public gatherings. They made masks compulsory on Tuesday after the first new cases emerged.
Contact tracers have so far identified 10,000 primary and secondary contacts who would need to quarantine, test and self-isolate. Still, Merlino said that number was likely to change.
Experts say the lockdown is designed to give the team the time to track down contacts while curbing the virus’s continued spread.
“Contact tracing is everything. Lockdowns are designed to give that team a fighting chance,” Catherine Bennett, the chair in epidemiology at Deakin University’s Institute for Health Transformation in Melbourne, told Al Jazeera.
“They are very efficient here. We have a great system. Something that I have championed all the way through is not just going to contacts of known cases but going to their contacts. In this outbreak we are going the next step again. If one person is identified as a case they’ll go to all their household members, test them and put them in quarantine then go to their close contacts, and their close contacts. They are throwing everything they can at it.”
State authorities say the federal government’s sluggish vaccine rollout was partly to blame for the latest lockdown. Here