Premier Daniel Andrews has asked the federal government to send more Pfizer vaccines to Victoria as the state went into lockdown for the sixth time to suppress a new coronavirus outbreak.
Mr Andrews, who said he was “gutted” to announce the seven-day lockdown, may also ask for the number of international flights to Melbourne to be cut and warned more snap lockdowns were likely until national vaccine targets were reached.
The state went from zero new cases to another lockdown in just over a day. It is less than a week since the fifth lockdown ended.
Victorians on Friday will wake up to at least seven days with children learning from home, hospitality restricted to takeaway only, a travel limit of five kilometres and only five essential reasons to leave home.
“Am I gutted to have to stand here and make these announcements? Of course I am,” Mr Andrews said, emphasising the growing national consensus that lockdowns were the only realistic option to maintain the nation’s COVID-zero strategy.
“But the alternative is not being locked down for seven days, it’s being locked down for seven weeks or more until we get to 80 per cent vaccination and that may not happen until almost Christmas.”
He said by thwarting this new outbreak sooner, Victorians would have the best chance of being open for most of the time before vaccine targets were reached later this year.
Public-health officials are worried that home visits, which were not allowed even before the latest lockdown, have contributed to the spread of the virus in this new outbreak. They are also investigating rumours of a household party and a link between one of the new cases and someone who recently left a NSW quarantine hotel.
The Premier said Victoria would seek additional doses of vaccines from the Commonwealth after more supply was provided for NSW and Queensland. The government asked for 7500 doses from the Commonwealth last week to help vaccinate supermarket workers, but this request was rejected, he said.
“We don’t want to make a request that’s got no chance of the answer being yes,” Mr Andrews said.
To help speed up the vaccination program, the government will imminently announce Victorians aged under 60 will be able to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine at state-run locations after receiving advice from their GP. The move is designed to increase demand for the jab that is in plentiful supply but causes one person in a million to die from a rare blood clot disorder.
Mr Andrews said the state might need to house many close contacts in quarantine hotels and that further cuts to international arrivals might be needed to free up rooms. The number of flights was cut by half in July.
Six cases were recorded on Thursday and two more were detailed later in the day which will be included in Friday’s numbers. Of the six, three were linked to the Delta outbreak the state has been managing for weeks while the others were linked to the new group.
The outbreak evolved rapidly this week. On Wednesday night, public-health officials were not considering new restrictions, though they feared further cases after a teacher at Al-Taqwa College in Truganina and her husband, who live in the western suburbs council area of Hobsons Bay, tested positive.
These feared cases were confirmed on Thursday, with two relatives of the teacher’s football-playing husband testing positive. Worries were compounded when a COVID-positive man in his 20s from the City of Maribyrnong, with no links to either the Hobsons Bay cases or the known outbreak, emerged.
By Thursday morning, the government began mulling stay-at-home orders.
Senior cabinet ministers met at 3pm, after parliamentary question time, and decided to lock down at 8pm rather than midnight to avoid people meeting in large numbers in the evening.
The government chose to act quickly after learning the lesson of last month’s lockdown, in which many cases were triggered by people mingling at the Ms Frankie restaurant in Cremorne the night before the lockdown took effect.
The man from Maribyrnong, who works at a factory in Derrimut, visited people who had recently entered Victoria after spending two weeks in a NSW quarantine hotel. Those people from NSW are being tested and there is so far no evidence they were positive at any point.
The Premier urged workers to get tested and reminded casual workers they were entitled to a $450 payment from the government if they needed to miss a shift to do so.
He also justified locking down regional areas by saying wastewater tests in Wangaratta in Victoria’s north-east had indicated COVID-19 could be present in the community.
The list of exposure sites has exceeded 80 and health authorities will be working through the night to try to figure out how three of the new cases contracted the virus.
Nearly 2500 students and teachers at Al-Taqwa are isolating. A coronavirus testing site was set up on the school grounds on Thursday morning and anyone from the school who received a test will also be offered a Pfizer jab.
Health Minister Martin Foley said health authorities expect more than 10,000 people to become close contacts of cases in the new outbreak and will be required to isolate.
More than 40 new exposure sites spanning Melbourne’s south-west to north-west were added to a growing list of high-risk venues on Thursday.
There are now 24 tier-one venues among the new sites listed on the Victorian government’s coronavirus exposure sites, which include a doctor’s office, pharmacy, cafes, supermarkets, a gym and an optometrist practice.
There were 27,279 tests processed while 17,229 doses of vaccine were administered at state hubs. With the addition of the two cases to be included in Friday’s figures, there are now 82 active cases across the state.
NSW reported 262 new local COVID-19 cases and five deaths on Thursday, the highest number of local cases recorded in the state in a 24-hour period.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian confirmed three men in their 60s, one man in his 70s and a woman in her 80s had died.
“Unfortunately, four out of those five people were not vaccinated at all,” Ms Berejiklian said. “I cannot stress enough how it’s so important for everybody of all ages to come forward and get the vaccine,” she said.