SYDNEY – According to the authorities, Australia’s second largest city will initiate a five-day lockdown for the corona virus on Friday and ban spectators for much of the Australian Open tennis tournament.
A new Covid-19 cluster, linked to a quarantine hotel in Melbourne, capital of the state of Victoria, hit 13 cases as of midnight Thursday as authorities rushed to suppress the spread of the virus. All of these infections were linked to the highly contagious British variant.
Victoria Prime Minister Daniel Andrews announced the lockdown of the state from midnight Friday, calling it a “short, sharp breaker” banning public gatherings, house auctions, weddings and religious gatherings.
“We have to assume that there are more cases in the community for which we have had positive results and that they are moving at a rate that has not been seen anywhere in our country in the past 12 months,” Andrews told Reporters. with reference to the high transmission rate of the British variant.
When asked about the Australian Open, which runs until February 21, the prime minister said the Grand Slam tournament, one of the biggest events on the country’s sports calendar, was viewed as a workplace that has lockdown restrictions.
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“There are no fans. There are no crowds. These people are essentially in their workplace,” he said. “The minimum number of employees for it to run safely – not just because of the virus, but for other reasons – will be in place.”
The event was already limited to 50 percent of normal capacity and was followed by previous complaints from some international players who were forced to spend critical prep time in quarantine.
The tournament will continue for the next five days without the crowds, with no fans allowed at the venues, according to the organizers. Viewers will be able to attend the games scheduled for Friday, while those who bought tickets to restricted events will receive a refund, a statement said.
Victoria has suspended international passenger flights from Saturday until further notice, with the exception of those that are already in transit.
“We will continue to assess the impact of the UK virus strain on our program and international arrivals and will provide more information about the length of this pause shortly,” the state government said in a statement.
All states and territories except New South Wales, which also includes Sydney and is the most populous state in the country, closed their borders with Victoria on Friday due to the high risk of transmission.
New South Wales, which had a 26th day of no community cases on Friday, said its borders with Victoria will remain open while it monitors the situation.
Victoria saw one of the strictest and longest lockdowns in the world last year after an outbreak that killed more than 800 people in the state, the vast majority of the national death toll.
The head of the Australian business lobby group expressed frustration at the new lockdown and called it a “bitter disappointment for the entire community”.
“This is the second lockdown caused by Victoria’s hotel quarantine system. It cannot be as long and destructive as the last,” said Jennifer Westacott, chief executive of the Business Council. “We have to make sure that the hotel quarantine works properly.”
In a broader sense, Australia is among the most successful countries in the world in dealing with the pandemic, largely due to critical lockdowns and borders that are sealed to all but a drop of travelers. The nation has recorded around 22,200 cases in the community and 909 deaths.
However, the quarantine hotels, where all international comers are required to spend two weeks, have been a weak link in the defense, with the recent cluster in Melbourne being another example.
Prime Minister Andrews suggested tightening the return program for Australian citizens only for compassionate reasons. This could be supported by other states suffering from the UK burden.
Prior to the lockdown announcement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered his administration full support for Victoria’s decisions to contain the outbreak.