Australian authorities announced a snap three-day COVID-19 lockdown in the northern city of Brisbane from Monday afternoon, as they attempt to stamp out an outbreak of the virulent UK variant of the virus.
About two million people in the city, the country’s third-largest and the capital of Queensland state, will be required to stay home from 5pm local time (07:00 GMT) except for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping or exercise.
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“This is the UK strain. It is highly infectious. Now we need to do this now to avoid a longer lockdown,” Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said.
“We’ve seen what’s happened in other countries. I don’t want to see that happen to Queensland, I don’t want to see that happen to Australia.”
State officials reported four new locally transmitted COVID-19 cases on Monday, taking the cluster of cases linked to the UK variant to seven. The first case in the new cluster was reported on Friday.
Palaszczuk pointed to the success of a snap three-day lockdown in Brisbane in early January after the discovery of a single case of the UK variant.
“That worked very well when we did that last time,” she said.
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Snap lockdowns, social-distancing rules and speedy contact-tracing systems have helped Australia to stamp out fresh clusters in recent months. The country has reported just over 29,200 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began.
Local media reported long queues at supermarkets as well as at COVID-19 testing centres on Monday.
Schools in the city will be closed from Tuesday, with funerals capped at 20 people, weddings limited to 10 and household gatherings limited to two people. Restaurants and cafes will only be able to offer take-away food, while bars will be closed.
People will also be required to wear masks outside their homes including on public transport and in offices and workplaces.
Palaszczuk said lockdowns would “be part of the Australian way of life until everyone is vaccinated”.
The country’s vaccine rollout has been sluggish, with just over 500,000 shots administered so far in a country of 25 million.
Before the announcement, Brisbane was among several Australian cities enjoying relaxed restrictions with residents able to freely attend events including concerts and sporting matches.
The lockdown is currently scheduled to finish just before the country begins the Easter holidays, which is usually a popular time for people to travel.