Melbourne goes into lockdown again after Indian Covid outbreak sparked when man was infected INSIDE a quarantine hotel ‘as he received food delivery’ in major blow to border closure policy
- Melbourne and Victoria state going back into lockdown for a fourth time after 26 cases of Indian Covid variant
- Outbreak traced back to a man in his 30s who is thought to have caught the virus inside a quarantine hotel
- Researchers believe the man was infected while picking up a food delivery just hours before he was released
- News has sparked criticism of Australia’s border lockdown, as politicians say Covid has escaped the strict system 17 times in the last six months
Australia’s second city is heading back into lockdown for the fourth time after an outbreak of the Indian Covid variant traced back to a quarantine hotel in a major blow for the country’s strict border closure policy.
From midnight tonight, five million residents of Melbourne and surrounding Victoria state will be banned from leaving their homes except to work, exercise or for essential needs after 26 cases of the Indian variant were detected in the city, with thousands more people told to isolate and get tested.
The outbreak has been traced back to a man in his 30s who is thought to have been infected with the highly-infectious variant inside a quarantine hotel in neighbouring South Australia just hours before being allowed to go home, where he fell ill.
It marks a major blow to Australia’s ultra-strict border shutdown system which was designed to stop virus cases – and especially mutant variants of the virus – from being imported from overseas, and has sparked criticism of the government’s strategy.
‘If we had an alternative to hotel quarantine for this particular variant of concern, we would not be here today,’ Victoria deputy state leader James Merlino said, pointing out that the virus has escaped quarantine at least 17 times in the last six months.
Five million Australians are being plunged back into a strict lockdown in Victoria state after an outbreak of the Indian Covid variant traced back to a man in his 30s who was infected inside this hotel in Adelaide
Protesters take to the streets of Melbourne as the city prepares to enter its fourth Covid lockdown from midnight on Thursday, with people banned from leaving their homes except for work, exercise or emergencies
Empty seats are seen at a Cafe in Melbourne just hours before Australia’s second city goes back into lockdown
Melbourne’s streets are seen empty just hours before a seven-day lockdown comes into effect to try and head-off a major outbreak of the Indian variant
The chain of transmission began on April 19 when the man – dubbed Case A – returned to Australia having been travelling in Malaysia and Singapore, according to a report released by South Australia’s health authority.
Upon arrival, he was sent to quarantine at the Playford Hotel in central Adelaide where he was tested for the virus and found to be negative.
Case A was then tested twice more – thought to be on April 24 and May 3 – both of which came back negative.
But on the same day as the final test, he was potentially exposed to the virus after twice opening his door to collect food – just a few moments after a man in the opposite room – dubbed Case B – had also opened his door.
Investigators say Case B was likely Covid-positive at the time but had not yet been confirmed with a test.
This is because Case B was originally sharing a different hotel room with a third man – Case C – who had arrived in the country alongside him.
Case C had fallen sick on April 27, tested positive on April 29, and was taken away to another hotel for confirmed Covid cases.
After that, Case B was taken out of the shared room so it could be cleaned and moved to the room opposite Case A.
On two occasions on May 3, Case B had opened his door to collect a food delivery in the hallway, followed a short time later by Case A.
In the first instance, the doors were opened within 18 seconds of each-other and in the second instance, within 12 minutes. Investigators say it is not clear whether the men were wearing masks at the time.
Case B then fell sick later on May 3 and was taken away to a Covid-positive hotel the following day, May 4.
Meanwhile Case A was cleared to leave the hotel and caught a flight back to Melbourne, where he fell sick on May 8 and tested positive on May 11.
Researchers believe Case B could have left virus particles lingering in the air between the rooms – which were at the end of a corridor and thus less-well ventilated – before Case A inhaled them and was infected.
Researchers say they were unable to find any other possible route of transmission, having checked staff hygiene procedures, contact between rooms, and the air conditioning system.
The only other possibility is that Case A was infected as he entered the country, somehow tested negative three times, and had the virus incubating in his system for 22 days before it developed into an infection.
However, this is considered unlikely because it would be one of the longest-known Covid incubation times on record. The typical incubation period is between seven and 14 days.
By the time Case A had fallen ill and tested positive in Melbourne on May 11, he had sparked a chain of infection that has led to 26 positive cases so far – with thousands more people told to get tested and isolate.
Most of those cases are linked to a man in his 60s who fell sick on May 17. It is unclear how exactly the virus got from Case A to this man, but he went on to infect at least 14 others.
That sparked a surge testing effort in Melbourne that has raised the number of confirmed cases to 26, with infections linked to shopping centres, football matches, a swimming school and a series of nightclubs.
Amid fears the virus could quickly spread out of control, Victoria declared a snap seven-day lockdown to break the chain of transmission.
It is the fourth time Melbourne has been plunged into lockdown since the pandemic began, including nearly four months of harsh restrictions last year.
The outbreak has intensified criticism of flawed quarantine facilities and a national vaccine rollout that, according to acting state Premier James Merlino, is ‘not where it should be’.
‘If more people were vaccinated, we might be facing a very different set of circumstances than we are today. But sadly we are not,’ he said, pointing blame squarely at the conservative federal government.
Some local residents rushed to get jabbed Thursday, as the state opened up mass vaccination hubs to people aged 40-49 for the first time.
Jane Oliver-Read, 56, spent more than an hour in a queue that was ‘snaking around the building’ in central Melbourne to receive her first jab.
‘I’d always planned to come in this week to have it, so the outbreak in Melbourne has confirmed that it’s the right thing to do,’ she told AFP.
The virus has leaked out of make-shift hotel quarantine facilities across Australia 17 times in six months, according to the opposition Labor party.
People queue for a Covid-19 test in Melbourne as thousands of people were asked to get checked amid fears that a major outbreak has gone largely undetected
A worker at a mass testing facility in Melbourne is shown where to go for a Covid test as the city tries to establish just how many people have been infected in the latest outbreak
Young people wait for a Covid test in Melbourne after the virus was linked to two football matches and a string of nightclubs, with everyone who attended them asked to get checked
The ‘circuit-breaker’ lockdown is designed to allow contact tracers to get on top of cases, with residents permitted to leave home only for essential reasons including getting vaccinated.
Schools, pubs and restaurants are set to close, while gatherings will be banned and mask-wearing made mandatory.
But professional sporting fixtures can go ahead without crowds and people living alone can create a ‘single bubble’ with another person.
New Zealand has already suspended its travel bubble with Victoria and while residents are now being shut out of other Australian states, prompting major airlines to slash Melbourne services.
In recent months, Australians had largely been enjoying few restrictions after the country successfully contained the spread of coronavirus.
But outbreaks in Taiwan and Japan have underscored how initial success containing the virus can quickly be eroded without widespread vaccination.
So far Australia has administered about 3.7 million vaccination doses in a population of 25 million, with just a fraction of residents fully vaccinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison batted away the criticisms, saying ‘no system is foolproof’ and pointing to Australia’s currently low infection and death numbers when compared to other countries around the world.
‘We will do everything we can to protect the lives and livelihoods of Australians, and we have lost 910 souls to Covid already during the course of this pandemic. Of course that is not anything near what we have seen in other countries,’ he said.
Morrison urged eligible Australians to get vaccinated, saying the ‘wonderful and enviable’ way of life Down Under during much of the pandemic had led to some vaccine hesitancy.
Australia has recorded about 30,000 Covid-19 cases to date – the vast majority in Victoria during last year’s devastating second wave.
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