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Interstate borders tighten and lockdown looms as cluster grows to nine

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A COVID-19 cluster in Melbourne’s north has grown to nine cases as the city prepares to return to mandatory indoor masks and beefed up gathering restrictions.

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Victoria’s health department confirmed on Tuesday afternoon it had been notified of a further four cases.

All are family contacts of a man in his 60s, who became the fifth person in Melbourne’s northern suburbs to test positive to COVID-19 on Tuesday morning.

Earlier, Acting Premier James Merlino said the man had symptoms prior to the four cases identified on Monday, suggesting he could be the possible “source case” for the City of Whittlesea outbreak.

Genomic sequencing shows the outbreak is linked to the case of a Wollert man, who contracted the virus in South Australian quarantine earlier this month.

Merlino also announced new restrictions in response to the outbreak to take effect from 6pm Tuesday.

The acting premier confirmed genomic sequencing showed the Whittlesea outbreak was “closely related” to a man in nearby Wollert who tested positive earlier this month after returning from hotel quarantine in South Australia.

Health authorities have now identified 10 exposure sites as they race to contain the COVID-19 outbreak.

Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk today said the state’s only new COVID-19 cases were detected in hotel quarantine, but Queenslanders should reconsider travel to Melbourne lest they bring it back with them.

Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said the Victorian restrictions should make Queenslanders even more cautious given the flow-on impact to interstate travel.

“Anyone who is travelling from greater Melbourne, who have been to any of these venues, who arrive from 1am tomorrow morning, will have to go into government hotel quarantine for 14 days,” D’Ath said.

Testing sites serving Melbourne’s north were straining to cope with demand as people heeded public health advice.

The family cluster – originally involving a man in his 30s, a man in 70s, a woman in 70s and a pre-school aged child from three households in the Whittlesea area – emerged on Monday.

Victoria Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has said the first Whittlesea man is carrying a high viral load and warned the community to brace for more possible cases.

All domestic borders remain open despite most states and territories issuing updated travel advice for recent Victorian arrivals.

The latest outbreak snapped Victoria’s 86-day streak without a locally acquired case.

Victorian Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the public was nervous after the government blundered on the supermarket exposure site and “seems to be making some pretty basic errors” on contact tracing.

“The last thing Victoria can afford is going back into lockdown,” he said.

The Victorian government is not ruling in or out a lockdown as officials seek to track down contacts.

“We will always be at risk until we have high vaccination coverage,” the state’s chief health officer Brett Sutton said on Monday.

Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said Australia’s strong track record containing coronavirus could come unstuck very quickly, particularly with the onset of winter.

“Please don’t hesitate to get your vaccine,” he said.

Prof Kelly said it was important to look for as many incentives as possible to get people vaccinated.

He is open to novelty measures such as cash lotteries and product discounts seen overseas.

“At the moment, we know there is some hesitancy, particularly in the 50 to 69-year-old age group. We are rolling out extremely well in the over 70s. So there is something we need to consider there.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian on Monday called for an increase to the vaccination target.

The premier said her target of 30,000 weekly jabs at the Sydney Olympic Park vaccination hub was exceeded last week, and she wanted that target to be increased by NSW Health.

The mass COVID-19 vaccination centre on Monday also began to administer the AstraZeneca vaccine.

Almost 1.1 million vaccinations have been administered in NSW to date, which includes the parts of the rollout overseen by the Commonwealth.

Berejiklian also said it was too early to discuss whether the COVID-19 cases in Melbourne should prompt a hotspot declaration.

Australia will continue to be at risk from coronavirus outbreaks until there is high vaccination coverage, federal and state health officials have warned.

 

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