Australia Victoria's snap COVID-19 lockdown should end as planned, epidemiologist says
The Pandemic Is in Tenuous Retreat
New COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all dropped this week.The good news in COVID-19 data continued this week, as new cases, hospitalizations, and deaths all dropped. For the seven-day period running January 28 to February 3, weekly new cases were down more than 16 percent over the previous week, and dropped below 1 million for the first time since the week of November 5. This is still an astonishing number of new cases a week, but far better than the nearly 1.8 million cases reported the week of January 14. Tests also declined nationally, but by less than 3 percent, nowhere near enough to explain the steep drop in cases.
An epidemiologist says the low number of coronavirus cases detected since Victoria went into a snap lockdown is a promising sign the state can reopen as planned on Thursday.
Victoria was plunged into a five-day lockdown from midnight on Friday as the State Government moved to contain an outbreak of the fast-spreading UK variant of coronavirus that had escaped hotel quarantine.
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Health Minister Martin Foley said one of today's cases was in hotel quarantine and two were locally-acquired infections picked up at a private dining centre in Coburg, which a hotel quarantine worker linked to the Holiday Inn had visited before testing positive.
Deakin University epidemiologist Catherine Bennett said it appeared there was one "significant chain of transmission" that extended from hotel quarantine to the event in Coburg.
"The other news we heard today that does [boost] confidence is that other primary contacts around these secondary cases are consistently coming back with negative results," she said.
"It looks like we did have a spreader event at this Coburg venue, but hopefully that's contained.
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"We haven't seen evidence of wider spreading, particularly at some of those more public venues like the [Melbourne airport exposure site] Brunetti cafe, so that's very promising."
Dr Bennett said it appeared authorities were working "very efficiently" to use the time bought by the snap lockdown to put contacts of known cases into quarantine and do testing.
There are 21 active COVID-19 cases in Victoria but none outside Melbourne, which has led to complaints from regional businesses about the effect locking down the entire state will have on local economies.
Chinese New Year scaled back
Ballarat's Charles Zhang is hoping the arrival of the Year of the Ox will bring about a change in fortunes for regional Victorians.
"The ox offers strong hard work, resilience and also brings prosperity to everyone," he said.
"That's what we were hoping for."
Victorian coronavirus outbreak expected to worsen as state enters start of five-day lockdown
Victorian authorities expect an outbreak of the UK strain of coronavirus from a quarantine hotel to grow, as the state enters the first day of a snap lockdown called on Friday in a bid to dampen community transmission. Premier Daniel Andrews said the outbreak, which started with a family of three at Melbourne Airport's Holiday Inn, was "moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months".
Friday night's Lunar New Year celebrations were tempered amid the lockdown, which curtailed a number of cultural events planned over the next two weeks.
Mr Zhang, the president of Ballarat's Chinese-Australia Cultural Society, said it was a "huge blow" for the entire region.
"Chinese New Year is the biggest, the number one festival celebration for the Chinese community," he said.
"It's the combination of Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year."
The impact of cancellations along the Great Ocean Road is of particular concern.
Thousands of tourists flock to areas near the 12 Apostles each year to celebrate the Lunar New Year and trade businesses have come to rely heavily upon their patronage.
"I really have felt for those businesses, particularly with the food industries," Mr Zhang said.
"This is the biggest time of the year for Chinese restaurants … it's very heartbreaking for everyone."
The Morwell Neighbourhood House has praised a local business for donating food it no longer needed because of the lockdown.
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As the Holiday Inn COVID-19 cluster climbs to 16, the focus is now on exposure sites in Melbourne's northern suburbs.The Melbourne Airport Holiday Inn hotel quarantine cluster grew to 16 yesterday, with two new locally acquired cases — a woman and a three-year-old child who attended a private function venue in Coburg in Melbourne's north on February 6.
About 36 people queued outside the neighbourhood house for some 90 minutes this morning to receive salads, fruits and freshly-baked breads supplied by Sandwich Chef in Traralgon.
Morwell Neighbourhood House manager Tracie Lund said she arrived at the food bank to find a queue after word spread on social media.
"I think there were two reasons for that," she said.
"We were opening up the food bank and we know that over the weekend we've seen quite a lot of stockpiling — so people weren't able to necessarily access the basics over the weekend.
"It also gave them an opportunity to pick up some fresh, nutritious goods that they wouldn't have normally had access to or been able to afford themselves."
She said panic buying made it harder for people on low incomes to buy the food they needed.
"People that are living on very tight budgets and that are vulnerable in our community quite often only shop once a week or once a fortnight," Ms Lund said.
"They don't have expendable income to be going from shop to shop just to get the basics."
Racing back home
The organisers of the world's second-oldest one-day cycling event were dismayed after Friday's lockdown left riders anxiously taking in the Government's press conference in their cars.
Melbourne to Warrnambool Classic organiser Karin Jones said the race had attracted its strongest international line-up in 25 years, but many of the riders were too scared to travel into Victoria ahead of the impending lockdown.
"We literally had cars waiting at the South Australian and New South Wales borders, waiting for the one o'clock announcement and they literally turned around," Ms Jones said.
"We've got these top-level, elite Olympic athletes that are sitting in cars waiting at the border and then had to turn around and do another 11-hour drive home."
Ms Jones said she hoped to reschedule the race for sometime within the next four months, giving Australian riders the chance for an important domestic event ahead of the Tokyo Olympics.
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The prime minister has said England is going to start "reclaiming our freedoms" - with all legal limits on people's social contact set to end by 21 June. Unveiling his long-awaited roadmap for easing the country's third COVID-19 lockdown, Boris Johnson said he hoped the nation was on a "one-way road to freedom" after a "wretched year", declaring: "The end really is in sight."After schools reopen on 8 March, with some outdoor restrictions lifted by 29 March, Mr Johnson said the next step would be to reopen beer gardens and hairdressers in England from 12 April at the earliest.