© Reuters. People wait for trains at Flinders Street Station in Melbourne.
By Swati Pandey and Renju Jose SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s second-most populous city will enter a five-day coronavirus lockdown, authorities said on Friday, excluding spectators from the Australian Open tennis tournament for much of the time. Grand Slam event. A new cluster of COVID-19 linked to a quarantine hotel in Melbourne, the state capital of Victoria, reached 13 cases on Thursday at midnight as authorities rushed to quell the spread of the virus. Those infections include the highly contagious British variant. Victoria’s Prime Minister Daniel Andrews announced the shutdown for the state, starting at midnight Friday, calling it a “short and sharp circuit breaker” that bans public gatherings, home auctions, weddings and religious gatherings. “We must assume that there are more cases in the community than we have positive results, and that it is moving at a speed that has not been seen anywhere in our country in the course of these last 12 months,” Andrews told the journalists. When asked about the Australian Open, which runs through February 21, Andrews said the event was considered a workplace, subject to lockdown restrictions. “There are no fans. There are no crowds. These people are essentially at their workplace,” he said. “The minimum number of staff to run it safely, not just because of the virus but for other reasons, will be there.” The event had already been limited to 50% of normal capacity. Victoria endured one of the toughest and longest lockdowns in the world last year after an outbreak, which left more than 800 dead in the state, the vast majority of the national toll. More broadly, Australia and neighboring New Zealand have generally managed to contain the internal spread of the coronavirus, thanks to strict border restrictions. Australia has reported more than 22,000 local infections of the virus that causes COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since March. The country has been ranked in the top 10 on a COVID performance index for its successful handling of the pandemic. Before the announcement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison offered the full support of his government for Victoria’s decisions to contain the outbreak. “We have addressed (outbreaks) in recent weeks in Sydney, Brisbane and Perth, so a proportionate response … allows tracers to overcome it and get the same successful result that we have seen in other states,” Morrison told the journalists.