Hard lockdown looming for up to five days

 

Victorians are set to be sent into another hard lockdown with official confirmation expected on Friday afternoon.

The Herald Sun understands restrictions could look like those imposed in August when there was a limit on leaving home, closure of schools, non-essential services and gathering restrictions.

A cabinet meeting will take place at 11.45am where they will be presented with the plans for the lockdown which will last up to five days.

The measures are expected to impact greater Melbourne only.

Premier Daniel Andrews will front a press conference this afternoon with restrictions expected to come into place from late Friday.

A government source said:

"A cabinet meeting is taking place to consider a snap lockdown given the widely infectious nature of this virus means we cannot sit still."

Authorities fear Victoria is on the brink of the third COVID-19 wave.

High-level discussions began on Thursday night regarding the introduction of a snap lockdown.

Authorities fear an outbreak related to the Holiday Inn is out of control.
Authorities fear an outbreak related to the Holiday Inn is out of control.

 

State government advisers were on Thursday instructed to draw up a framework for another lockdown, which could be introduced as early as Friday night, or possibly within days.

The Herald Sun understands the national medical expert panel was involved in emergency talks on Thursday night.

As the situation escalated, federal authorities were bracing for new restrictions to be introduced.

On Friday morning, the Department of Health announced five new locally acquired cases had been recorded in the past 24 hours taking the number of active cases in Victoria to 19.

One case was formally reported after midnight but added to the Thursday numbers.

It follows 24,209 tests in the period.

The worsening outbreak and lockdown discussions come amid significant concern over virus fragments detected in wastewater in several areas across Melbourne, understood to be mainly in the northern suburbs.

A source close to Emergency Management Victoria told the Herald Sun authorities feared they had lost control of the outbreak.

The source said there were deep concerns at the failure of contact tracers to match information they had been given by confirmed cases and their close contacts with what the results of sewage testing was showing about the virus's spread.

 

The emergency agency was described as being in "pandemonium".

Early on Friday morning a new location - Brunetti in Terminal 4 of Melbourne Airport - was added to the Tier 1 exposure sites (see below).

Anyone who visited Brunetti over an 8.5 hour period from 4.45am to 1.15pm on February 9 must immediately isolate, get a test, and quarantine for 14 days.

The Brunetti worker was a close contact of a confirmed case of a Holiday Inn quarantine hotel worker and later developed the virus.

The cafe had been deep-cleaned, an airport spokesperson said.

Twenty-nine flights landed or took off from the domestic terminal at the time the infected worker was on shift.

Melbourne Airport said it was working closely with the government to support its contact tracing efforts.

Speaking on the Neil Mitchell program, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said snap lockdowns had proven to be sensible in other states to give contact tracers a "head start".

He confirmed Chief Medical Officer Professor Paul Kelly and Health Minister Greg Hunt had been working with Victorian authorities on options overnight.

 

Testing sites have been inundated. Picture: Andrew Henshaw
Testing sites have been inundated. Picture: Andrew Henshaw

Mr Morrison told 3AW that he would not pre-empt the state government's decisions, but said that he expected Victorians would learn more today.

Mr Morrison said he expected with a proportionate and targeted response, the state government should be able to get on top of the outbreak and avoid a repeat of last year's lengthy lockdown.

The Herald Sun understands some federal MPs and staffers are now rushing to make their way to Canberra for next week's parliamentary sittings, in case new border restrictions are imposed before then.

It is also understood that Thursday night's discussions in Victoria, which included Premier Daniel Andrews, were heated.

The key concern was that Victoria could be battling an outbreak of the British mutant strain, which has proven much more transmissible than those which devastated Victoria last year.

Health officials are working on the assumption that all cases connected to the Holiday Inn outbreak, which ballooned to 13 infections on Thursday, involve the mutant bug.

Genomic testing has confirmed six of the cases, including the family of three considered the "index cases", have been infected with the strain and results were pending for the others.

The restrictions could be similar to the recent five-day lockdown in Western Australia, where residents in Perth and two other regions were only allowed to leave home for an hour to exercise with a mask within 5km, or if they were an essential worker, needed groceries or medical supplies, were receiving health care or were supporting someone with needs.

Schools, gyms and cinemas were also shut, while restaurants and cafes could only serve takeaway.

Such restrictions would signal an end to crowds at the Australian Open, although it was not clear on Thursday night whether the grand slam would continue, as the players had endured a 14-day quarantine and could be placed in "secure bubbles".

Five new cases emerged as part of the Holiday Inn outbreak on Thursday, including the husbands of two food and beverage attendants who worked at the Melbourne Airport hotel.

In an 11pm tweet, the Department of Health confirmed the latest two cases were "household primary close contacts" of existing cases.

It marked the first cases of transmission outside the quarantine system.

Victoria's testing commander, Jeroen Weimar, said it was still "early days" in the outbreak.

"This is by no means over, we are still in the opening quarter of the Holiday Inn outbreak I'm afraid," he said.

"We've got a lot of work to do to really make sure we pull this one up.

"What is more challenging with this one is it's the UK variant so we don't yet know how easily it transmits when you get into the second and third generation of people catching it. That's going to be the challenge for us now and over the coming days."

Authorities have deemed 400-500 people close contacts of confirmed cases, including Holiday Inn workers, returned travellers who were staying there and people linked to exposure sites.

The original COVID-positive family that triggered the outbreak were transferred from the Holiday Inn to a medi-hotel on February 4.

The health department said anyone at the hotel for more than 15 minutes between January 27 and February 9 was considered a primary close contact and was urged to self-isolate, get a test and stay in isolation for 14 days.

Camberwell Grammar was closed on Thursday as a non-teaching staff member had tested positive. It is not clear whether that member was among the 13.

Mr Weimar said on Thursday contact tracing efforts were being focused on the Sunbury area. Several businesses were listed as exposure sites.

The health department said anyone at the hotel for more than 15 minutes between January 27 and February 9 was considered a primary close contact and was urged to self-isolate, get a test and stay in isolation for 14 days.

Originally published as Snap lockdown talks as Victoria on the brink of third wave