Thursday, 25 February, 2021

Snap lockdown quashes Melbourne outbreak, tennis fans poised to return

MOTORSPORT TO RESUME IN VICTORIA TOMORROW Victoria to lift lockdown, crowds likely to return to Australian Open from Thursday
Deanna Wagner | 17 February, 2021, 11:02

A snap five-day lockdown had been ordered for Victoria state Friday after a small outbreak of the more infectious United Kingdom coronavirus variant prompted fears Australia's successful battle to contain the pandemic could be undone.

Authorities said the lockdown would be lifted at 11.59 pm as planned on Wednesday.

Victoria, the second most populous state in the country, was plunged into hard lockdown from midnight on Friday after a fresh outbreak linked to a quarantine hotel.

Authorities said swift action in Melbourne and Auckland helped contain flare-ups of the highly contagious United Kingdom coronavirus variant, contrasting with the less rigorous approach taken in Europe and other infection hotspots.

The Australian Open tennis tournament, which is being held in the state capital of Melbourne until Feb 21, has barred spectators until the end of the lockdown.

Victoria's premier Daniel Andrews said: "We are very pleased to be able to report that progress today, not just a zero day today, but the fact we've been able to contain this outbreak".

Both the Auckland and Melbourne outbreaks involved the more transmissible virus strain first detected in Britain.

Some business leaders described the latest lockdown as an overreaction.

First Pfizer vaccine shipment arrives in Australia
That includes making sure they have been kept at the correct temperature and that no seals have been broken. Mr Hunt said the first vials of locally made doses of the AstraZeneca vaccine were also being manufactured.

Tickets are now on sale for Thursday's matches, but it was unclear what restrictions would be placed on crowd sizes.

"There will be meeting early this afternoon ... where we go through and work through exactly what is a safe number and that decision will be made as soon as possible", Andrews told reporters.

Andrews would not guarantee that there would be no further lockdowns announced at short notice.

The tournament had started three weeks late to allow worldwide players to quarantine.

Thousands of fans were welcomed in its first few days, before the lockdown left players slugging it out on courts in front of empty stands to reach the quarter-finals.

Victoria is now considering a purpose-built quarantine facility.

Australia has reported a total of just under 29,000 Covid-19 cases and 909 deaths, with border closures and speedy tracking systems helping keep numbers relatively low compared with other developed countries.

But the problems with the Australian Open have underlined the difficulties of holding large sporting events during a pandemic, including the much more complex Tokyo Olympics, which are due to start in July after a year's delay.