Thursday, February 25, 2021

South Australia starts 6-week ‘circuit breaker’ to curb new virus spread

Staff working at multiple quarantine hotels have spread Covid-19 to the community, say officials.

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South Australians have this morning awoken to Day One of the state’s six-day “circuit breaker” lockdown to curb the spread of a coronavirus outbreak discovered just days ago.

Since the start of the pandemic, Australian states have responded aggressively to small outbreaks with generally successful results. South Australia has now detected 36 cases, the first community infections in six months and is going all out to curb the spread.

From today, schools and universities are shut, as are hospitality venues and food outlets, even for takeaway. Exercise is not allowed outside the home. It’s a stricter lockdown than Melbourne ever suffered in order to beat its second wave, which caused about 800 deaths.

Authorities hope that going hard and early can prevent an escalation of cases. There will be a further eight days of lesser restrictions following the six-day pause, officials said.

Authorities urged people to avoid panic-buying, confirming supermarkets and pharmacies would remain open but almost immediately after the lockdown announcement, images on social media showed people queuing at supermarkets to buy toilet paper and other such vital supplies.

South Australia’s Premier Stephen Marshall called on residents to “rise to the challenge again” in the sudden, second lockdown. “We need a circuit breaker to stay ahead of this,” he said. “We need breathing space for contact tracing to protect the elderly, the vulnerable, our entire community.”

Most Australian states had already moved this week to shut their borders to South Australian residents. The Northern Territory government halted the famous Ghan train, which runs through the red centre of the country from Adelaide to Darwin, at Alice Springs and turned it back to Adelaide with all its passengers.

Like neighbouring Victoria’s outbreak, the re-emergence of the virus in South Australia has come from a hotel quarantine site. Officials say a medi-hotel cleaner became infected and spread it to the local community.

Poor pay rates have been forcing some staff to work across multiple workplaces, therefore increasing the risk of spread. This has prompted re-examination of quarantine safety measures.

Australia closed its borders to international travellers in March but has allowed citizens and permanent residents to return home if they undergo a mandatory 14-day quarantine in a designated hotel. More than 20% of the country’s cases have been found in returning travellers.

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