Urgent call for vaccinations as seven-day snap lockdown confirmed for Victoria

Urgent call for vaccinations as seven-day snap lockdown confirmed for Victoria

Unlike previous lockdowns when people were allowed four reasons to leave the home, Victorian authorities have today announced a critical fifth exception for the stay-at-home measures that will take effect at 11:59pm tonight - getting vaccinated.

With 150 exposure sites across Greater Melbourne and other parts of the state relating to the latest COVID-19 cluster that has now risen to 26, as well as the identification of 10,000 contacts connected to them, Acting Premier James Merlino confirmed an anticipated one-week lockdown for Victoria.

"Unless something drastic happens, this will become increasingly uncontrollable. This vaccine rollout has been slower than we hoped - that is a fact," Merlino said.

"If more people were vaccinated, we might be facing a very different set of circumstances than we are today. But sadly, we are not. If we make the wrong choice now, if we wait too long, this thing will get away from us."

After a record-breaking 40,411 people got tested yesterday and contact tracers were able to identify and lock down, first, second and third rings of contacts within 24 hours, the concerning issue is that the current variant transmits much more quickly than others that Australia has had to handle.

Merlino said the serial interval, meaning the time it took between the onset of symptoms between first and secondary cases, was sometimes averaging just over a day.

"Now to put that in some perspective, the usual transmission is about five to six days. In some of these cases, within a day it's been transmitted," he said.

"And in just 24 hours the number of cases has doubled," he said, also noting one of the recent cases is in serious condition in an intensive care unit (ICU).

What are the changes?

Victoria's seven-day lockdown is expected to last until 11:59pm next Thursday, however Merlino said if they could be eased earlier then that will be done. He gave the following five reasons why people would be allowed to leave the home once the lockdown comes into effect:

  • Shopping for necessary goods and services;
  • Authorised work or permitted education;
  • Exercise with a two-hour maximum with one other person;
  • Caregiving, compassionate and medical reasons;
  • Getting vaccinated.

Merlino said vaccines were "the only pathway through this pandemic", and to help the effort the state-run vaccination facilities will now be opening their doors to the 40-49 age bracket for Pfizer/BioNTech COVID-19 vaccinations.

Victorians will not be able to go outside of a 5km perimeter from their homes, unless their nearest shops are further away than that.

"Masks must be worn everywhere, indoors and outdoors, anywhere other than your home unless an exemption applies," he said.

"There are to be no visitors to your home, other than an intimate partner, but single bubbles will be permitted. If you live alone, you can make a bubble with another person.

"There are to be no public gatherings."

He said restaurants, pubs and cafes were allowed to be open for takeaway only, while essential retail could be open such as supermarkets, food stores, petrol stations, banks, bottle shops and pharmacies. Other retail stores can provide click and collect.

Childcare and kindergartens will be open as per the last circuit-breaker lockdown, approved professional sporting events will proceed with no crowds, and schools will move to remote learning except for vulnerable children and the children of authorised workers.

Hotels, clubs, TABs and casinos will be closed.

"We know that this is going to be particularly difficult for businesses and events," Merlino said.

"I really encourage everyone if you are eligible, get vaccinated. The reason why we are dealing with this outbreak today is because of a hotel breach in South Australia.

"That is not a criticism, it is just a fact. We've had breaches in hotel quarantine right around our country. The only way through this pandemic is everyone getting vaccinated as quickly as you are eligible and for the Commonwealth to agree to an alternative quarantine arrangement, particularly for high risk individuals."

"If we had an alternative to hotel [quarantine] for this particular variant of concern, we would not be here today. If we had the Commonwealth's vaccine program effectively rolled out, we would not be here today talking about these circuit-breaker restrictions that we must impose to keep our community safe."

The Victorian Government is also establishing six new testing sites today in Brighton, Cheltenham, Ascot Vale, East Reservoir and East Coburg.

States and Territories react 

Western Australia has just announced its border to Victoria is closed, following South Australia's restrictions on travellers coming from Greater Melbourne that was implemented last night. 

Anyone who has arrived in WA since 16 May must get tested and go into isolation until they receive a negative result. Anyone wishing to arrive who has been to Victoria since May 16 is no longer allowed to enter Western Australia.

At 6:30am today, the Essendon AFL team who arrived in WA yesterday all returned negative results.

"Our thoughts are with the people of Victoria and we have every confidence Victoria will quickly get on top of this," WA Premier Mark McGowan said.

Overnight, the Northern Territory designated VIC as a COVID-19 hotspot, meaning any travellers into the top end must now complete 14 days of mandatory quarantine at their own expense on arrival.

Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein will establish all of Victoria as a high-risk area from 2pm AEST today. Anyone who arrives before then can enter unless they have been to Whittlesea LGA or VIC exposure sites.

Only people designated as essential travellers will be permitted to enter Tasmania after 2pm, but they will still have to complete two weeks of quarantine.

Queensland has declared Victoria a hotspot, so anyone who arrives in the Sunshine State from Victoria after 1am tonight will need to enter hotel quarantine. Anyone who has been in Victoria within the past 14 days, or arrives from Victoria before the cut-off tonight, will still need to observe the same stay-at-home rules as Victorians while in Queensland.

"On behalf of Queenslan  we wish Victoria all the very best, and I know that the next seven days we're going to be with you every step of the way," Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.

Queensland's Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young said there had been an increase in testing rates, and she urged anyone with symptoms to get tested.

New South Wales has issued a stay-at-home order to anyone travelling to the state from Victoria, effective 4pm AEST today.

The measure means anyone arriving in NSW who has been in VIC since 4pm today must remain at their home or place of residence in NSW for the seven-day duration of the lockdown.

People will only be permitted to leave their places of residence for limited reasons, including shopping for essential items, medical care, caregiving, outdoor exercise, and essential work or education, if you cannot do it from home.

For NSW residents living along the VIC border, the seven-day stay-at-home requirement will only apply to people who have been outside the border region in VIC from 4pm today.

"People subject to the stay-at-home measures in Victoria should not be travelling to NSW unless they are permitted to do so," NSW Health.

Updated at 11:43am AEST on 27 May.

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