UPDATED 17:45 | 27/5/21
One hundred and thirty flights arriving and departing from Melbourne have been cancelled across Thursday and Friday as Victoria prepares to enter its fourth lockdown.
The ‘circuit breaker’ restrictions come after the state’s new COVID cluster grew to 26, with 12 new “linked cases” emerging in the 24 hours until midnight.
Acting Premier James Merlino appeared to blame the federal government’s handling of hotel quarantine for contributing to the situation.
It came after Labor’s federal leader, Anthony Albanese, tweeted this morning that “outbreaks will keep happening if Scott Morrison doesn’t fix quarantine”.
Victoria’s list of exposure sites has now grown to 150, with one of the active cases revealed to be in ICU on a ventilator.
Already, 10,000 primary or secondary contacts have been asked to either quarantine or test and isolate in response.
Premier Merlino said the latest cluster was a “highly infectious strain” that was spreading “faster than we have ever recorded”.
The new restrictions – which for the first time will allow people to leave home to get vaccinated – will formally come into effect at midnight.
Already, 29 flights have been cancelled at Melbourne Airport, with more likely to follow. WA quickly followed by closing its state border, in a move that will come into effect at 10am local time.
NSW has insisted it will keep its borders open, but asked residents to avoid unnecessary travel to Victoria. Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was “worried about the evolving situation” and would “just ask everybody to do the right thing”.
“We’ve relied on the goodwill of our citizens during the entire pandemic. Let’s not give up now,” she said.
“I’m worried about the evolving situation and of course we’ll watch closely to see what the Victorian government announces this morning.”
New Zealand earlier this week paused the trans-Tasman bubble to Victoria for at least 72 hours, with that now almost certain to be extended today.
The lockdown will come as a huge blow to domestic aviation in Victoria and beyond. Last week, Melbourne Airport revealed domestic passenger traffic in April notched up to 65 per cent – the biggest since COVID and the same as Sydney.
Announcing the numbers, chief executive Lyell Strambi has argued Australia needs to speed up its vaccine rollout so it can open its borders – or risk being left behind other nations.
“In the short-term our splendid isolation is ultra-safe from COVID, but in the long-term it will act as a handbrake on the economy, jobs and opportunities for Australians,” he said.
“While the recovery has commenced, it remains fragile,” said Strambi. “We need to be more aggressive in relation to the vaccine rollout, in order to realise the benefits of Australia’s remarkable management of COVID-19.
“It is increasingly likely that Australia will be left behind as countries around the world reopen to one another on the back of high vaccination rates.
“Demand for international travel clearly exists and we are hopeful that once we get a high proportion of our population protected by vaccines, we can start to carefully reopen to counties with similarly high rates of vaccination and low rates of infection.”
Earlier this week, Sir Richard Branson also urged the Australian government to speed up its vaccine rollout.
“It should be the number-one priority of the government, nothing else matters more, to be honest,” he told Nine News.
It comes after this month’s budget papers strongly hinted international travel will not fully resume until mid-2022.