COVID curbs reimposed in Melbourne after five cases discovered

Authorities in Australia’s second-biggest city says restrictions will be in force until June 4 as they scramble to find source of new infections.

COVID-19 restrictions are being reimposed in Melbourne as authorities try to find the source of an outbreak in the city's north [File: Sandra Sanders/Reuters]

Australia’s second-largest city Melbourne has reimposed COVID-19 restrictions as authorities scrambled to find the missing link in a fresh outbreak in the city’s north that has grown to five cases.

Home gatherings will be limited to five guests, only 30 people will be allowed at public meetings, and face masks will be compulsory in indoor settings from 6pm local time (08:00 GMT) on Tuesday until June 4.

“This is a responsible step that we need to take to get on top of this outbreak,” James Merlino, Victoria state’s acting premier, told reporters in Melbourne.

The latest cases come after nearly three months of the state reporting zero cases.

Victoria was the hardest-hit state during a second wave of the coronavirus last year, accounting for about 70 percent of total cases and 90 percent of deaths in Australia with care homes for the elderly badly hit. The state brought the outbreak under control only after one of the world’s longest and toughest lockdowns.

One new locally acquired case has been reported in Melbourne, Merlino said on Tuesday, a day after four infections were reported in the city.

All five cases involve a single extended family across different households and have been traced back via the virus’s genome to a variant found in an overseas traveller who returned to Melbourne early this month after completing quarantine in the city of Adelaide.

Authorities, however, are still working out how the family members contracted the virus from the overseas traveller.

The latest case involves a man in his 60s.

“Importantly, he reports being symptomatic before case one developed symptoms, meaning this could be a possible source case,” Merlino was quoted as saying by the Australian Broadcasting Corp (ABC). Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the man could be the “missing link”.

Thousands have been ordered to self-isolate and undergo COVID-19 tests with health alerts issued for several sites, from public transport to restaurants and shopping centres.

One of the cases had a high viral load while he visited some venues prompting authorities to warn Melbourne’s five million residents to brace for more positive cases in the next few days.

Hours at COVID-19 testing sites have been extended to deal with the expected increase in demand.

Speedy tracing systems, movement curbs and social distancing have helped Australia contain COVID-19 outbreaks, recording just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began.

Source: Al Jazeera, Reuters