Melbourne kicks off instant virus lockdown, no crowds at Australian Open


MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s second-most populous state, Victoria, entered a five-day lockdown on Saturday as authorities scrambled to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 cases caused by the highly infectious UK variant. .

A new locally acquired case was confirmed in the past 24 hours, health authorities said on Saturday, bringing the number of cases linked to a quarantine hotel at Melbourne airport to 14 and the total number of active cases in the state. to 20.

“Many people will be suffering today. This is not the position that the Victorians wanted to be in, but I can’t have a situation where two weeks from now, we look back and wish we had made these decisions now, ”Victoria’s Prime Minister Daniel told reporters. Andrews.

International flights to Melbourne will be stopped until Wednesday, after five en-route, carrying about 100 passengers, land on Saturday.

The 14 cases in the airport group are due to the highly infectious British variant of the new coronavirus. So far, only direct contacts from hotel workers have tested positive.

“It is contained in that sense. There is concern in Victoria about the spread to the community, ”Australian Medical Director Paul Kelly told reporters.

The streets of downtown Melbourne, the state capital, and its suburbs were almost empty on Saturday, with orders for people to stay home to do all the less essential shopping, two hours to exercise outdoors, take care someone or work that cannot be done from home.

Among the “essential” work, play continued at the Australian Open, the first Grand Slam tennis event of the year that runs until February 21, but fans were banned until Wednesday. Thousands of people were forced to leave the games before midnight on Friday.

The players missed the bustle of the crowd.

“It was a bit disturbing, in a way sad. … I just tried to focus on my game, ”Elina Svitolina said after winning her third round match.

The shutdown, which has closed restaurants and cafes for all but take-out, hit just as Melbourne was gearing up for the biggest weekend in nearly a year, with Lunar New Year celebrations, Valentine’s Day and crowds of the New York Open. Australia.

Melbourne last year endured a 111-day lockdown, one of the tightest and longest in the world at the time, to halt a coronavirus outbreak that killed more than 800 people.

“It is the busiest weekend of the year for us. I’m sitting here making 178 heartbreaking phone calls to see if I can get them rebooked, ”said Will Baa, owner of Lover, a restaurant in the trendy Windsor district.

“He just crossed his fingers that it only spreads for a short five-day period,” he said.

More broadly, Australia is among the world’s most successful countries in fighting the pandemic, largely due to decisive blockades and borders closed to all but a trickle of travelers. With a population of 25 million, there have been around 22,200 community cases and 909 deaths.

New Zealand reported a death of a COVID-19 patient on Saturday. That case has yet to be included in the country’s total of 25 COVID-19 deaths.

Report by Sonali Paul; Editing by Michael Perry / Peter Rutherford

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