Australia’s Victoria state likely to enter COVID-19 lockdown

(Reuters) — Australia’s second-most populous state Victoria is likely to enter a snap COVID-19 lockdown from Thursday after senior ministers met Wednesday night to discuss steps to contain a fresh outbreak in Melbourne, local media reported.

The state government was set to confirm final details of the lockdown on Thursday morning before announcing the public health measures, the Sydney Morning Herald newspaper reported, citing government sources.

A Victoria state health department spokesman said there would likely be an update on the coronavirus situation in Victoria later on Thursday morning.

The hard lockdown, during which people must stay home except for essential business, is expected to run for at least three days.

A fresh cluster of infections in Melbourne detected early this week has swelled to 15 cases and the number of virus-exposed locations crossed 70. Three hundred close contacts of the cases have been identified so far, with many having visited crowded hot spots that included sports stadiums and one of the largest shopping centres in the country.

Victoria authorities on Wednesday had warned the next 24 hours would be critical to limit the spread of cases and said further restrictions could be imposed to contain the fresh outbreak, the first in the state in more than three months.

Coronavirus curbs were reinstated on Tuesday for Melbourne’s five million residents, limiting gathering sizes and making masks mandatory in restaurants, hotels and other indoor locations until June 4.

Victoria endured one of the world’s strictest and longest lockdowns last year after a second wave of COVID-19 killed more than 800 people in the state, amounting for 90% of Australia’s total deaths since the pandemic began.

Swift contact tracing, snap lockdowns and strict social distancing rules have helped Australia keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths.