A serious outbreak of Covid-19 has sparked a new “hard” lockdown in Australia’s second largest city, Melbourne, amid a scandal over quarantine and security breaches at hotels.
From midnight on Wednesday, the City of Melbourne will return to strict lockdown for a six-week period, the state Premier Daniel Andrews announced Tuesday. So too will regional Mitchell Shire just north of the city fringe.
The southeastern state of Victoria has been experiencing an alarming spike in Covid infections. The lockdown comes after 200 cases were recorded in 24 hours. The worst since the country’s onset of the pandemic. As the outbreak intensifies, the state has recorded a double-digit rise in daily cases for 22 consecutive days. There are now 772 active cases from a national total of 839. That’s “up from 60 a month ago” according to 7 News.
Sex, Lies & Quarantine Hotel Scandals
Melbourne’s quarantine hotels have been identified as a major source of the virus escalation. Since the Australia travel ban came into force in March, all travelers returning from overseas must self-isolate for 14 days in their hotel rooms.
“Somehow this virus escaped … It looks like it all came from one hotel, and a few security guards having a good time,” said the ABC’s chief political correspondent, Laura Tingle. “It’s obviously now escaped hugely,” Tingle told Late Night Live host Phillip Adams.
The virus containment method, which “was the envy of the world just a few weeks ago,” was within 24 hours “brutally exposed” notes News.com.au.
31 cases stem from the biggest hotel outbreak at the 5-star Stamford Plaza Melbourne The Australian reports. That number continues to grow. Positive Covid tests taken during quarantine include security guards and “a household contact of a confirmed case.”
Security staff and “quarantine-hotel insiders” claim hotel guards slept with guests during quarantine the newspaper says. And that “security personnel wore personal protective equipment for up to eight hours without changing it.”
“Guards shook hands and shared lifts, some had just six hours of infection control training, some were caught sleeping on the job and quarantined families were allowed to go between rooms to play cards and games.” The revelations were first made to Melbourne newspaper the Herald Sun.
Now The Age claims that the security company at the Stamford Plaza also provided guards for a Melbourne public housing estate–another Covid hotbed under hard lockdown since Saturday.
42 people including guards, their families and close contacts have so far been infected as a result of the Stamford Plaza outbreak, it reports. According to the paper’s sources, subcontractors for MSS Security possibly worked at the North Melbourne and Flemington public housing estates, which has a cluster of some 53 cases. The health department has refuted such links.
Meantime, the state leader has launched a $3 million judicial inquiry into the “bungled quarantine program”, as The Age puts it. Particularly into the role of security guards in “infection control breach”.
As well as sleeping with quarantined guests, Sky News reports, security firms also “allegedly charged fees for shifts that were never worked, paid security guards in cash and made up names for staffers who never existed.”
The scandal and deteriorating situation in Victoria is undermining the grip on the disease and relatively low level of infection Australia-wide. Australia’s Health Minister, Greg Hunt, has told authorities to “throw the book” at anyone who has breached quarantine protocols.
What Does A Return To “Hard Lockdown” Mean?
The sharp uptick is forcing businesses and industries to shut down again, barely a month after reopening. The health crisis will see Victoria totally isolated from the rest of the country as borders all around close.
Under new stay at home orders coming into effect on Wednesday, most 6.4 million Victorian residents are being urged to work from home. Cafes, restaurants and bars will be allowed to serve takeouts, while cinemas, beauty salons, gyms and swimming pools close their doors completely.
The lockdown will also see Greater Melbourne virtually cut-off. Roadblocks and vehicle checks will prevent people leaving or entering the 9990 km2 (3857 square mile) area to visit friends, or to go to holiday homes.
The ABC lists all the 31 local government areas that fall within the soon to shutdown metropolitan Melbourne.
Four valid reasons for leaving your home are:
- For study or work, if you can’t do so from home
- Medical care and caregiving
- Food shopping
- Daily exercise including fishing, boating, tennis, golf and surfing within the lockdown area
People can visit their “intimate partner” the broadcaster states.
State Border To Close For First Time In 100 years
Much of Australia started relaxing a two-month lockdown in May, though several borders between the states and territories remain closed.
Now for the first time since the Spanish flu pandemic of 1919, the border between New South Wales and Victoria will close from midnight on Wednesday. Something that even grabbed the attention of Scotland’s First Minister.
The closure will be controlled by both police and drones. People can request permits in order to get an exemption for travel between the two. These apply to a dozen or so categories including residents returning home, seasonal workers, students and carers.
“In effect, Victoria has now been chucked out of the Federation and I’m wondering what the national implications of that are,” Phillip Adams jibed.
Victoria will be completely shut off, as South Australia too prepares to close its border to all but essential travel. And even then travelers must be prepared to self-isolate.
Risk Of More Border, Business Closure Nationwide
As the Northern Territory gets set to open its borders on July 17, its Chief Minister declared the whole of Melbourne a hotspot, and said all visitors from Greater Melbourne will face two weeks’ supervised quarantine.
For Laura Tingle, the Victorian scenario raises the spectre of more to come nationally. “I think it’s produced this much harder line … the fact that we’re now talking about border closures right across the country. And if there’s one thing that essentially drove the Federation (Australia’s coming together as a nation in 1901), it was having open trade between the colonies, so that’s all gone incredibly pear-shaped in the interest of trying to lock down this virus and keep it under control.”
But Tingle added, despite the outrage, Australia is trying to keep the state bickering at bay. “It’s interesting that all the states in a way are essentially saying, “We’ve got to stop fighting amongst ourselves guys, stop piling it on to each other, we’ve got to try and keep civil” … And It will be interesting to see if we can maintain that tone or not.”
The possibility of more lockdowns and border closures within Australia is hardly good news for those travelers wanting to visit, or leave the country soon.