Thousands of Australian Rules football fans have been told to self-isolate and get tested for coronavirus after a spectator later confirmed to have COVID-19 was found to have attended a match in Melbourne and the city raced to avoid another lockdown.
Australia’s second-biggest city is scrambling to contain the latest outbreak, with 15 cases identified so far. The state of Victoria has already tightened curbs on gatherings and ordered people to wear masks indoors and on public transport until June 4. New Zealand has also suspended its quarantine-free travel arrangement with the state.
On Wednesday, officials said one of the cases was among a crowd of some 23,400 people who watched a match on Sunday at the Melbourne Cricket Ground between Collingwood and Port Adelaide.
The Australian Football League or AFL said fans who sat near the positive case were now required to self-isolate until they received a negative test, while health officials were reviewing security-camera footage to determine whether others had also been affected.
The 100,000-capacity former Olympic stadium is one of a growing number of venues including supermarkets, cafés, pubs and shopping centres known to have been visited by people later diagnosed with COVID-19. State officials regularly update the list with the date and time the person visited the venue and the potential risk to others who were there.
The new cases have been traced back to a variant of the virus first identified in Indian found in an overseas traveller who is thought to have contracted the virus during mandatory hotel quarantine in Adelaide but officials have not yet discovered how the coronavirus spread into the wider community.
Australia has successfully tackled past outbreaks with swift contact tracing, local shutdowns and tough social distancing rules helping keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low compared with other developed countries. It has recorded just over 30,000 cases and 910 deaths since the pandemic began.
Victoria was hit hard by a second wave of COVID-19 last year, which was only brought under control after a strict four-month lockdown.
AFL games scheduled in Melbourne this weekend are currently allowed to go ahead with fans at up to 85 percent capacity but government officials have warned there could be more restrictions on public events.
“We are concerned about the number and the kind of exposure sites and the next 24 hours are going to be critical if we are going to have to make any further changes,” acting Victoria State acting Premier James Merlino said.
Victoria had not recorded any locally acquired coronavirus cases for about three months before the latest cases.
Despite Australia’s success in tackling the virus, the ruling conservative government has been criticised over repeated failures of the quarantine system and a sluggish vaccine distribution scheme.
The country has so far administered about 3.7 million vaccination doses in a population of 25 million but hopes to finish its vaccine rollout by the end of the year.