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Qld shuts border to Melbourne as Victoria locks down to fight ferocious UK variant

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Queensland will shut its border to greater Melbourne for two weeks as Victoria enters a five-day lockdown in an effort to contain the ferocious UK coronavirus strain at the centre of the Holiday Inn outbreak, which now totals 13 cases.

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Queensland has declared Greater Melbourne a hotspot and any travellers who have been there will be ordered into hotel quarantine from 1am on Saturday.

Acting Health Minister and Deputy Premier Steven Miles said a 14-day border closure would give contact tracers time to track 1500 people in Queensland linked to the Melbourne outbreak.

“This hotspot declaration will allow us to get on top of our contact tracing over that five-day period and monitor the situation there,” he said.

“It will allow us to protect Queenslanders and to support our public health officers doing that contract-tracing work, not adding to their workload while they are racing to get to those contacts.

“I’m sure all Queenslanders wish our friends and our family and all Victorians all the best through this lockdown.

“We were there not that long ago, we were there for our friends in Victoria last year during their very, very long lockdown.”

Deputy Chief Health Officer Sonya Bennett said while there was a virus case at Melbourne Airport, the site is no longer a risk so transit passengers will still be allowed to enter Queensland.

However, she warned that in addition to the 1500 people, there could also be more people in the state who have been to the virus exposure sites in Melbourne.

She called for anyone who had recently visited the Victorian capital since February 5 to self-isolate and get tested for COVID-19.

“We don’t know where people have been and I think that’s why closing the borders gives us an added assurance, whilst Victoria manages to get the outbreak under control,” she said.

In announcing Victoria’s lockdown, the state’s Premier, Dan Andrews, stressed the UK variant of the virus was “hyper-infectious” and moved so fast that it was of “significant concern” for health authorities.

“It is the advice to me that we must assume that there are further cases in the community than we have positive results for, and that it is moving at a velocity that has not been seen anywhere in our country over the course of these last 12 months,” Andrews told reporters.

“I am confident that this short, sharp circuit breaker will be effective. We will be able to smother this. We will be able to prevent it getting away from us.”

“If we wait for this theory — that there might be more cases than we know about — to be proven correct, we will be too late.”

“And then we will face a lockdown until a vaccine is rolled out.”

All travellers entering Queensland will need to make a formal declaration to confirm they haven’t been in Melbourne.

Police will be meeting passengers on all flights coming into Queensland and randomly checking cars entering the state.

Anyone caught with a false declaration faces a $4000 fine and potentially being ordered into quarantine.

Other states and territories announced similar measures soon after Andrews confirmed the Victoria lockdown.

Miles said after three lockdowns – in Brisbane, Perth and now Melbourne – involving the UK strain of the virus getting out of hotel quarantine it was time to reconsider a proposal for a national network of quarantine facilities.

He said all three outbreaks were caused by the virus spreading in hotel hallways, which were not designed for containing infectious diseases.

He said the risk of transmission could be greatly reduced if the federal government and the states set up purpose-built quarantine facilities.

“Victoria probably wouldn’t be going into this kind of lockdown if there was dedicated national quarantine facilities,” he said.

However, Prime Minister Scot Morrison rejected any notion of the federal government running quarantine.

“Hotel quarantine is never 100 per cent fail safe. To suggest it ever will be is just not realistic,” he said in a radio interview.

From 11.59pm tonight until Wednesday, people in Victoria will only be able to leave home to shop for food and essential items, provide or receive care, exercise and to work or study if they can’t from home.

The 5km travel limit will also be reimposed, as will compulsory use of masks both indoors and outdoors.

As with stage four restrictions, all non-essential retail will close but supermarkets, bottle shops and pharmacies will remain open. Cafes and restaurants will only be able to offer take-away.

The Australian Open tennis tournament, as well as the AFLW and other sporting events, will continue without crowds.

 

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