Victorians will begin a snap seven-day lockdown on Thursday night amid fears of a growing number of mystery COVID cases in the state.
Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the fears of millions of Victorians, announcing on Thursday afternoon that the state’s sixth pandemic shutdown would begin at 8pm.
It came after state authorities confirmed two mystery cases earlier in the day – on top of three reported overnight.
There were also three more infections linked to existing outbreaks.
“I would prefer that we didn’t have to make this decision now but my fear is – and the advice to me from the experts is – if we were to wait even just a few days, there is every chance that instead of being locked down for a week, this gets away from us, and we are potentially locked down until we all get vaccinated,” Mr Andrews said.
He described it as a “difficult decision”, coming only two weeks after the state’s last lockdown ended. But he said there was no alternative but for yet another round of stay-at-home orders.
“With so few in the community with one vaccination let alone two, I have no choice but to accept advice and we collectively to make this important decision to keep Victorians safe,” he said.
The decision means the five reasons to leave home are back, schools will be closed and all the same rules Victorians have become so used to will again apply.
“We have eight cases, six reported this morning and two cases on the board that would normally be reported tomorrow – and only three of those can be linked to a known outbreak,” Mr Andrews said.
“The rest we have to assume what they appear to be, mystery cases where we don’t know how they got it, we don’t know who they have given it to all how many people they have given it to.”
Last week, state and territory leaders agreed at national cabinet that short, sharp lockdowns were an appropriate response to outbreaks while COVID vaccination coverage remained low.
“A bloke in his 20s died in Sydney yesterday. This is not something that is happening on the other side of the world. Not something that only happens to very frail old people or people who have critically poor health. It can happen to any of us,” Mr Andrews said.
“That is why getting vaccinated is so important. But we are not there yet and that’s why we have to fill in this intervening period with a renewed vigilance.”
NSW had 262 more local virus cases on Thursday, the highest daily tally yet in its current outbreak. There were also five further deaths, bringing the toll from the current emergency to 22.
It also extended greater Sydney’s lockdown rules to the Hunter and Upper Hunter regions. They will begin a seven-day snap lockdown at 5pm Thursday after a spike in cases spurred fears the virus is leaching out of Sydney.
Victoria’s two newest infections are close contacts of a teacher and her husband. Both tested positive on Wednesday, but the source of their infection remains unknown.
The teacher works at Al-Taqwa College, at Truganina, in Melbourne’s outer-west, and the couple lives in the City of Hobsons Bay. Her husband works in outer-suburban Caroline Springs and plays for the Newport Football Club, whose players are now all in isolation.
Another man, aged in his 20s, who lives in the neighbouring City of Maribyrnong, is the third mystery case.
He works at a warehouse in Derrimut, in Melbourne’s outer-west. He and his housemate are now isolating.
Until Thursday’s mystery cases, Victoria had been on track to further ease virus restrictions from August 10 after its most recent lockdown ended.
State health authorities are still awaiting genomic sequencing for the latest cases. But Health Minister Martin Foley said they were being treated as if they are the Delta strain.
“That is basically the only variant transmitting in the Victorian community at the moment,” he said.
A string of exposure sites has been added in Victoria with the emergence of the most recent cases. They can be checked here.
The three other cases from Thursday’s numbers are linked to the Moonee Valley testing site cluster.