AUSTRALIA: Five million people in Melbourne were ordered into a snap week-long lockdown Thursday, with officials blaming Australia’s sluggish vaccine rollout and hotel quarantine failures for yet another virus outbreak in the country’s second-biggest city.
Facing a cluster of 26 cases linked to the “highly infectious” B.1.617.2 COVID-19 strain, authorities issued stay-at-home orders for Melbourne and surrounding Victoria state from midnight.
It is the fourth time Melbourne has been plunged into lockdown since the pandemic began, including nearly four months of harsh restrictions last year.
The cluster is believed to have begun with a traveller who returned to Australia from overseas despite a mandatory 14-day quarantine.
The latest outbreak has intensified criticism of flawed quarantine facilities and a national vaccine rollout that, according to acting state Premier James Merlino, is “not where it should be”.
The virus has leaked out of make-shift hotel quarantine facilities across Australia 17 times in six months, according to the opposition Labor party.
New Zealand has already suspended its travel bubble with Victoria and while residents are now being shut out of other Australian states, prompting major airlines to slash Melbourne services.
So far Australia has administered about 3.7 million vaccination doses in a population of 25 million, with just a fraction of residents fully vaccinated.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison batted away the criticisms, saying “no system is foolproof” and pointing to Australia’s comparatively successful coronavirus response globally.
Australia has recorded about 30,000 COVID-19 cases and 910 deaths to date – the vast majority in Victoria during last year’s devastating second wave.