Australia’s second-largest city, Melbourne, reinstated COVID-19 restrictions on Tuesday as authorities scrambled to find the missing link in a new outbreak that has grown to five cases.
Home gatherings will be limited to five guests, only 30 people will be allowed at public meetings, and masks will be mandatory in restaurants, pubs and other indoor venues from 6 p.m. local time (08:00 GMT), Tuesday through 4 June.
“This is a responsible step that we must take to bring this epidemic under control,” James Merlino, acting Prime Minister of Victoria, told reporters in Melbourne.
The latest outbreak ends Victoria state’s run of zero cases for almost three months.
Victoria was the hardest-hit state in a second wave late last year, accounting for around 70% of total cases and 90% of deaths in Australia. The state, the second most populous in the country, only brought the outbreak under control after one of the longest and strictest lockdowns in the world.
A new locally acquired case was reported in Melbourne, Merlino said on Tuesday, a day after four infections were reported in the city. Read more
All five cases belong to an extended family from different households and can be traced to the variant found in an overseas traveler who returned to Melbourne earlier this month after completing quarantine in the city of Adelaide.
Authorities, however, said they could not yet find how the latest cases contracted the traveler’s virus abroad.
Thousands of people have been ordered to self-isolate and undergo COVID-19 tests with health alerts issued for several sites, including one of the largest shopping malls in the country.
One of the cases had a high viral load as it traveled to certain locations, prompting authorities to warn Melbourne’s five million residents to prepare for more positive cases in the coming days.
The new outbreak comes as authorities try to scale up a slow nationwide vaccination campaign, with health experts fearing that many Australians are delaying their vaccinations due to the country’s success in effectively eliminating the virus.
Merlino stressed the importance of getting vaccinated urgently following the new cases and said the government planned to expand the vaccination eligibility criteria to expand doses to more people.
“There are currently millions of Victorians who are eligible for vaccination. They shouldn’t wait until tomorrow, they shouldn’t wait until next week. They should move out now and get the shot, ”Merlino said.
Rapid tracking systems, movement restrictions and social distancing have gone a long way in helping Australia contain outbreaks of COVID-19. It has recorded just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths since the start of the pandemic.
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