The length of Victoria’s snap lockdown remains in the balance after the state recorded 11 new cases on Monday, significantly higher than the numbers reported in previous days.
Acting Premier James Merlino said the situation “may well get worse before it gets better” as speculation continues that the “circuit breaker” may last longer than the initially announced seven days.
The restrictions first came into effect on Friday after a variant of “highly infectious” COVID cases emerged in Melbourne, thought to be linked to a quarantine breach in SA. So far, the cluster has been linked to more than 50 cases.
On Monday, nearly 290 flights arriving and departing from Melbourne Airport alone were cancelled, with the lockdown set to cost domestic aviation hundreds of millions.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said the lifting of lockdown was a day to day proposition.
“These are concerning numbers, these are concerning settings,” he said.
“It’s been a rapidly moving virus and the transmission that’s occurred in those high-risk settings has been very substantial so we have to take it as a day-by-day prospect.
“But with more numbers today coming through and those really concerning settings especially in aged care, we’re neck and neck with this virus and it’s an absolute beast.”
Premier Merlino said the situation was “incredibly serious” and that the next few days “remain critical”.
Australian Aviation previously reported the Northern Beaches COVID cluster at Christmas cost Qantas $400 million in lost earnings.
Most states have now shut their borders or introduced restrictions to Victoria, except NSW, which is only asking those who return to follow lockdown rules such as not leaving their homes except for essential reasons.
New Zealand last week paused the trans-Tasman bubble to Victoria for at least 72 hours, with that now almost certain to be extended.
The lockdown will come as a huge blow to domestic aviation in Victoria and beyond. Earlier this month, 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 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. 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.”
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.