Victoria will begin a strict seven-day lockdown from midnight Thursday.
Acting Premier James Merlino announced the snap lockdown after a morning of speculation as the coronavirus cluster that started in Melbourne’s north rose to 26 cases and spread across the city and into regional areas.
Twelve more COVID infections were confirmed on Thursday (including one already announced on Wednesday).
“In the past day, we have seen 12 linked new cases, bringing the total number of cases linked to the hotel quarantine breach in South Australia to 26. Sadly, we have one of those people in an ICU, on a ventilator, in not a very good way,” Mr Merlino said.
“We’ve seen more evidence we’re dealing with a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern, which is running faster than we have ever recorded.”
There are also at least 10,000 primary and secondary contacts, who will need to be tested and self-isolate.
“Our contact tracers are identifying and locking down the first ring, second ring, and third ring within 24 hours. They have never done that before,” he said.
“But despite working as fast as this … this variant is moving faster still.”
Mr Merlino said the virus had been transmitted in less than a day in some cases, compared to five-six days for previous variants.
“If we make the wrong choice now, if we wait too long, this thing will get away from us,” he said.
From midnight, Victorians will be restricted to the now usual reasons to leave home – seeking or giving medical care, essential work, shopping for necessary items, two hours of exercise a day.
They will also have to remain within five kilometres of their homes. Masks will be mandatory for everyone leaving their home, indoors and out.
Schools will return to remote learning, only essential shops will be open and restaurants and cafes will be restricted to takeaway service.
However, Victorians will also be allowed a fifth reason to leave home – to get a COVID vaccination, with the state expanding eligibility for shots to everyone aged over 40.
“I really encourage everyone, if you’re eligible, get vaccinated,” he said.
“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 have 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.”
A record 12,677 people received coronavirus shots in Victoria on Wednesday. Despite that, Mr Merlino said the vaccination program was “not where we hoped it would be”.
“The vaccine rollout has been slower than we have hoped … If more people were vaccinated, we might be facing a very different set of circumstances than we are today. But sadly we are not,” he said.
There were also more than 40,000 coronavirus tests in Victoria on Wednesday, a number the Acting Premier described as “extraordinary”. Testing numbers are set to be high again on Thursday, with multiple reports of centres across Melbourne being overwhelmed with people.
State Health Minister Martin Foley said 15 more test sites had been set up across Victoria in the past 24 hours, with six more to follow on Thursday. Hours at 40 others have been extended.
- See an up-to-date list of Victorian exposure sites here
There are more than 150 coronavirus exposure sites across Victoria, including the MCG and Marvel Stadium, country areas and places on state borders.
Exposure sites added on Wednesday night included cafes and businesses across Melbourne’s south-east and the Mornington Peninsula.