Melbourne starts snap virus lockdown, no crowds at Australian Open
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[February 13, 2021]
By Sonali Paul
MELBOURNE (Reuters) - Australia's second
most populous state Victoria entered a five-day lockdown on Saturday as
authorities raced to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 cases sparked by
the highly infections UK variant.
One new locally acquired case was confirmed in the past 24 hours, health
authorities said on Saturday, taking the number of cases tied to a
quarantine hotel at Melbourne airport to 14 and total active cases in
the state to 20.
"A lot of people will be hurting today. This is not the position
Victorians wanted to be in but I can't have a situation where in two
weeks' time, we look back and wish we had taken these decisions now,"
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Saturday.
International flights to Melbourne will be stopped through Wednesday,
after five en-route, with about 100 passengers, land on Saturday.
All 14 cases in the airport cluster are due to the highly infectious UK
variant of the novel coronavirus. So far only direct contacts of workers
at the hotel have tested positive.
"It's contained in that sense. There is concern in Victoria about spread
into the community," Australia's Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly told
Streets in downtown Melbourne, the state's capital, and its suburbs were
almost empty on Saturday, with people ordered to stay home for all but
essential shopping, two hours of outdoor exercise, caregiving, or work
that cannot be done from home.
Among the "essential" work, play at the Australian Open, the year's
first Grand Slam tennis event which runs to Feb. 21, continued, but fans
were banned through Wednesday. Thousands were forced to leave
mid-matches before midnight on Friday.
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A person crosses an empty street on the first day of a five-day
lockdown implemented in the state of Victoria in response to a
coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia,
February 13, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders
Players missed the crowd buzz.
"It was a bit disturbing - in some ways sad. ... I just tried to
focus on my game," Elina Svitolina said after winning her
The lockdown, which has shut restaurants and cafes for all but
takeaway, hit just as Melbourne had geared up for the biggest
weekend in nearly a year, with Lunar New Year celebrations,
Valentine's Day and Australian Open crowds.
Melbourne last year endured a 111-day lockdown, one of the strictest
and longest in the world at the time, to stem a coronavirus outbreak
which lead to more than 800 deaths.
"It's the busiest weekend of the year for us. I'm sitting here
making 178 heartbreaking phone calls to see if I can get them to
rebook," said Will Baa, owner of Lover, a restaurant in the hip
district of Windsor.
"Just fingers crossed that it only does extend for the short period
of five days," he said.
More broadly, Australia is rated among the world's most successful
countries in tackling the pandemic, largely because of decisive
lockdowns and borders sealed to all but a trickle of travellers.
With a population of 25 million, there have been around 22,200
community cases and 909 deaths.
New Zealand on Saturday reported one death of a patient with
COVID-19. That case has yet to be included in the country's total of
25 COVID-19 deaths.
(Reporting by Sonali Paul; Editing by Michael Perry/Peter
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