Public health experts have been concerned on the speed of the B1.617.1 variant of COVID-19 which has moved quickly through the community.
Acting Premier James Merlino said, “here in Victoria we’re seeing not only how quick it is but how contagious it is as well”.
“Our contact tracers identifying – are identifying and locking down the first ring, second ring and third ring within 24 hours,” he said.
“They have never done that before. That’s the fastest our contact tracers have ever moved within a 24-hour period, identifying and locking down first, second and third rings of cases. But despite working as fast as this – and my thanks to all of our contact tracers – this variant is moving faster still.”
In just 24 hours the number of cases has doubled.
Professor Vicky Kotsirilos AM told Neos Kosmos that the current variant of COVID-19 is “highly infectious and contagious primarily through aerosol spread”.
“The number of people with COVID-19 infections can escalate extremely rapidly within a few days if we do not take these extra precautions that are advised by the authorities,” she warned. “The current virus is much more infectious and aggressive compared with the usual COVID-19 infection and can cause respiratory symptoms within a day or so, compared with 5-6 days of the usual COVID-19 infection. We are all susceptible to the harms of this highly contagious virus but the vulnerable groups – the unwell, the elderly, people with chronic diseases and those who are immunocompromised are most at risk of becoming seriously unwell, and can result in lethal blood clotting disorder, pneumonia, lung failure and even death.”
A circuit breaker lockdown will begin at 11:59pm tonight. There will be five reasons to leave home: Food and supplies. Authorised work. Care and caregiving. Exercise, for up to two hours and with one other person. And getting vaccinated.
Exercise and shopping will be limited to five kilometres from home, and if there are no shops in the 5km radius of people, the will be able to travel to the ones closest to them. However, shopping is also limited to one person per day, per household.
Face masks will also need to be worn inside and outdoors – everywhere except your own home.
Private and public gatherings will not be permitted, although visiting your intimate partner continues to be okay. Single person bubbles will also be allowed.
Major sporting events will continue, without crowds.
Cafes and restaurants will be able to offer take-away only, however shops like supermarkets, food stores, bottle shops, banks and petrol stations will also remain open. Gyms, hairdressers, community facilities and entertainment venues will all close. Non-essential retail may only open for click and collect.
Hotels and accommodation can only stay open to support guests already staying onsite. No new bookings can be made – unless it’s for one a permitted purpose, like authorised work.
Childcare and kinder will remain open, but schools will need to close other than for the children of authorised workers and vulnerable kids.
Kathryn Drougas, Director of Administration of St John’s told Neos Kosmos that the school had been closed for a deep clean on Thursday, ahead of the announcement for the state-wide lockdown.
“We had no positive cases but decided to do a deep clean given that there were cases in the northern suburbs,” she said.
“At St John’s we used online programs prior to COVID-19 and have streamlined those. We have implemented the SEQTA system, an online learning management program, where we upload work and assessments and use it anyway on a daily basis. And we use ellinopoula.gr to support Greek language learning. This will help students in their transition to home learning. Last year was a learning curve.”
The marriage rush
Fr Evmenios Vasilopoulos, the Archdiocesan Vicar of Northcote told Neos Kosmos that the winter season is not usually chosen for weddings and funerals, however some of those which were set to take place on the weekend are being rushed for Thursday ahead of lockdown.
Fr Demos Nicolau of the Holy Church of Saint Paraskevi, Saint Barbara, Saint John the Merciful and Our Mother of Consolation, in St Albans, Melbourne told Neos Kosmos that lockdown would mean a return to online services for parishioners.
“There are no special services before the lockdown, but we will continue to do services as normal without the presence of the congregation. All services will be livestreamed from our personal Youtube and Facebook pages for our parishioners to follow,” he said.
“All baptisms and weddings are currently postponed until we find out any further information.”
Fr Nicholas Georgiou of the Presentation of Our Lady to the Temple in North Balwyn said at the time of writing that he hoped it would be a quick and easy return to normality. It was a wait-and-see situation to see how things will develop. We do not know what will happen but we will go through with it.
Experts welcome lockdown
Professor Vicki Kotsirilos said “the latest COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne with over 150 exposure sites reminds us that we need to continue to be vigilant as the world-wide pandemic continues to rage.”
“Today’s Lockdown announcement will help bring the COVID-19 cluster under control. From previous experience in Victoria and other states, the COVID numbers can effectively reduce and we can reach zero cases again if we all do the right thing.
“Australia is one of the luckiest countries in the world largely due to the swift action by the Government and Health authorities when clusters occur implementing lockdowns as required, stringent quarantine for travellers, COVID-19 tracing and testing, and provide prompt clear advice to the public on strategies that we should continue to abide such as wearing masks, hand hygiene and social distancing.”
She urges people to follow the current health authority advice.
Current health authority advice:
- Wear fitted masks for adults and children (12 years of age and over) when outdoors and indoors in authorised workplaces, shopping centres, and public transport, unless you have a medical exemption.
- Stay home and do not travel outside a 5 km radius except for essential services such as shopping or for care giving.
- Exercise is limited to 2 hours a day alone or with a friend.
- No social or private gatherings are permitted and for single people a bubble friend is permitted.
- Keep a check on exposure sites which have been published at Case alerts – public exposure sites and get tested if you have visited these sites.
- Continue to practice social distancing and hand hygiene.
- Get vaccinated for COVID-19 infection if you haven’t so far – this will ensure you will be protected from COVID-19 infection.
- If you have any respiratory symptoms, no matter how mild, stay home and get tested at your nearest COVID-19 testing station.
- If you have respiratory symptoms, telehealth or phone consultations are still available with your GP. They will advice you if you require to go into the practice to seek help.
Here are the reasons you can leave home:
- shopping for necessary goods and services
- authorised work or permitted education
- exercise – a two-hour limit, with one other person
- caregiving, compassionate and medical reasons
and the fifth: – to get vaccinated
Mr Merlino pleaded for people to get vaccinated.
“I can announce that from tomorrow morning, vaccinations at state sites will be expanded to include those in the 40- to 49-year-old age group, for the Pfizer vaccine, so that means now, if our state sites, if you’re over 40, you will eligible for a vaccine,” he said.
Victorians will have access to state-run vaccination sites.
People aged from 40 to 49 can book an appointment for the Pfizer vaccine.
People aged over 50 can receive the AstraZeneca vaccine through a state-run vaccination centre or a participating GP clinics. Many centres are accepting walk-in appointments for people of this age group.
To make a booking, call the 1800 675 398 hotline.
“Without full vaccination, this virus will just keep mutating – and just keep making its way back in,” Mr Merlino said.
“Do it for yourself. Your family. Your friends. Your community. Whatever your motivation – please do it. Because vaccination is our only real ticket out of this pandemic.”
Professor Arthur Christopoulos, Dean of the Faculty of Pharmacy and Pharmaceutical Science at Monash University, told Neos Kosmos, “As we have seen in other countries that also were doing very well like us in keeping community transmission under control, this can turn very bad very quickly – we are still in the middle of a raging global pandemic.”
He said “latest Melbourne outbreak is a perfect example of why people should be vaccinating as soon as possible”.
World-renowned researcher and immunologist Vasso Apostolopoulos, Pro Vice-Chancellor at Victoria University, said that “people are hesitant to get vaccinated because of the reported side effects and it would be helpful if the government was open to other vaccines”, pointing to other vaccines around the world, such as Sinovac, Sinopharm, Sputnik, already being rolled out successfully and made differently.
“Australia should be open to them,” she said.
“There are at least 200 vaccines developed around the world which haven’t been tested on humans due to the lack of funding, which are probably even better than the ones we have available with no side effects of which 10-15 are made in Australia,” she said, including one made at her own Victoria University.
Professor Christopoulos said “the benefits of vaccination outweigh the risks, especially when COVID is circulating in the community”.
Professor Kotsirilos said “lockdowns can be difficult and stressful to endure especially for businesses, but they are necessary when required.”
There were reports in the local press of shelves being emptied out at supermarkets even prior to the announcement of lockdown, however the management of Market Europa – a continental supermarket with standard as well as Greek products – said that there was a little bit more traffic but “nothing like previous lockdowns when they’ve come out crazy”.
Market Europa supermarkets at Heatherton and Noble Park will remain open and management said that they will be affected by the 5km radius which will prevent customers from coming to their stores.
The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) said the Victorian lockdown is a devastating blow for retailers and is expected to cost more than a billion dollars in terms of lost retail trade.
ARA CEO Paul Zahra said the Association supports the Victorian Government in its response to keep the community safe but can’t ignore the “significant impact this lockdown will have on retailers”.
“Victorians have been to hell and back over the past year or so, and just when we thought the worst of Covid was behind us, it’s reared its head again mid-year.
“Businesses no longer have JobKeeper support payments available to them and Victorian small businesses in particular will be under significant stress – this is a huge blow to their confidence.
“A seven-day lockdown is expected to cost retailers over a billion dollars in terms of lost trade. This isn’t just a financial cost – it’s a social one as well. This lockdown will have an enormous impact on people’s health and wellbeing and will shatter fragile confidence levels for the second half of the year. This will also set back the valiant efforts of State and local government to restore confidence and foot traffic within Melbourne’s hard-hit CBD. Online, click and collect and home delivery is still available in Victoria and we encourage people to use those options for getting the goods and services they need.”