Australia’s second-most populous city will enter a five-day snap coronavirus lockdown, authorities said on Friday, banning spectators for much of the Australian Open tennis tournament.
A fresh COVID-19 cluster linked to a quarantine hotel in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria state, reached 13 cases as of Thursday midnight, as authorities rushed to quash the spread of the virus. All of those infections were linked to the highly contagious UK variant.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews announced the lockdown for the state, starting at midnight on Friday, calling it a “short, sharp circuit breaker” banning public gatherings, home auctions, weddings and religious gatherings.
“We must assume that there are further cases in the community than we have positive results for, and that it is moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months,” Andrews told reporters, noting the high transmission rate of the UK variant.
Asked about the Australian Open, which runs through Feb. 21, the premier said the Grand Slam tournament, one the biggest events in the country’s sports calendar, was considered a workplace, subject to lockdown restrictions.
“There are no fans. There are no crowds. These people are essentially at their workplace,” he said. “The minimum number of staff for it to be run safely – not just for the virus but other reasons – will be there.”
The event had already been limited to 50% of usual capacity and was dogged by earlier complaints from some international players, who were forced to spend critical preparation time in quarantine.