Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino has announced a statewide seven-day lockdown, after a growing number of COVID cases have been detected in Melbourne and Bendigo this week.

The current outbreak, which was first announced on Monday, currently totals 26 cases and lists more than 70 exposure sites. That number is expected to grow in the short-term, as roughly 10,000 primary and secondary contacts have been identified.

The circuit-breaker lockdown will begin at 11:59pm Thursday 27 May, and is currently set to end at 11:59pm on Thursday 3 June. There are only five reasons for Victorians to leave their homes, four of which are well-known – essential shopping; approved work; exercise with a two-hour limit with one other person; and medical and caregiving reasons. A fifth reason has been added to the list – to get vaccinated. Acting Premier James Merlino announced during the press conference that at state sites they have expanded the age range eligible for the Pfizer vaccine to include 40-49 year-olds.

The current outbreak is particularly worrying as it is the highly infectious B1.617.1 variant which escaped from hotel quarantine. With such a rapid increase in cases, the Victorian Government has stressed the need to move into another lockdown as quickly as possible to get on top of the outbreak.

“If we make the wrong choice now, if we wait too long, if we hesitate too much, this thing will get away from us. And lives will be at risk,” stated Acting Premier Merlino.

Throughout the press conference, the acting Premier was notably critical of the Commonwealth’s efforts when it comes to the hotel quarantine system – where the outbreak originated – and the national vaccination program. Looking beyond Victoria, he suggested that both systems needed to be addressed and improved for the sake of the entire nation.

“For every state and territory, for our entire nation, we are not through this pandemic until we’ve had the successful roll-out of the Commonwealth’s vaccine program and we have effective alternatives to hotel quarantine. This pandemic in this nation and across the world will be with us for some time yet, so none of us are through it until those things happen.”

Chief Health officer Brett Sutton backed up the Premier’s statement, suggesting: “We just need to be precautionary all of the time, until we’re at a point when we are really in that safe zone. That safe zone is a fair way away: it’s having 15-plus million Australians vaccinated and we are not there yet, 3.6 million is great but we are a long way from safety.”

Implications for the industry

Among the lockdown restrictions, pubs, bars and restaurants are all to be closed throughout the lockdown, with takeaway to be the only means of business. Bottleshops can remain open.

Victoria has been through three previous lockdowns, but this is the first one to not have the safety net of the JobKeeper program for businesses. Acting Premier Merlino said that the state government would have support measures to announce in the coming days, but would not elaborate further.

 “We know this is going to be particularly difficult for business, for events… for this period of the circuit-breaker lockdown. We know this is very, very difficult and we’ll provide additional support.”

Acting Premier James Merlino

Several pubs and bars are listed within the exposure sites. They are:

  • Axedale Tavern at 105 High Street in Axedale between 11:45am and 1:30pm on Sunday May 23
  • Three Monkeys Bar at 210 Chapel Street, Prahran, between 12:30am and 2:00am Sunday, May 23
  • Circus Bar at 199 Commercial Road, South Yarra, between 1:30am and 4:15am on Sunday, May 23
  • The Sporting Globe at 590 Main Street, Mordialloc, between 6:17pm and 9:43pm on Sunday, May 23
  • Somewhere Bar at 181 Chapel Street, Prahran, between 10:30pm and 1:00am on Saturday, May 22
  • Three Monkeys Bar at 210 Chapel Street, Prahran, between 9:10pm and 11:00pm on Saturday, May 22
  • The Local on Bay Street in Port Melbourne between 1:30pm and 3:30pm on Friday May 21
  • The Palace Hotel, 505-507 City Road, South Melbourne between 5:45 and 6:45pm on Friday May 21

All of these sites are Tier 1 exposure sites, and anyone who has been in these venues during those times must get tested immediately and quarantine for 14 days from exposure. All of the venues listed above have been closed for a deep clean and are cooperating with DHHS to ensure that all patrons within those times are contacted.

In a statement on Facebook, the team at the Axedale Tavern in greater Bendigo, addressed the situation.

 “From the bottom of our hearts, we would like to thank everyone, whom in a short amount of time, have already reached out in support, with calls and messages. We are truly grateful to live and work in such an amazing, supportive community.

“Our thoughts are with those directly affected. Stay well.”

The team at the Palace Hotel also urged its patrons who visited during the exposure date and time to get tested, stating “We all need to play our part in this.”

In a sign of solidarity within the local hospitality community, The Tipsy Cow owner Anupam Sharma reached out to the Palace Hotel – prior to the lockdown announcement – offering the venue support in any way it needed.

“Supporting local doesn’t mean anything if we are only in it for ourselves. So we are here for you as neighbours and your patrons.”

A full and current list of exposure sites can be viewed here. Eligible Victorians are urged to book in a time to be vaccinated. Methods to do so can be found here.

Andy Young

Andy joined Intermedia as Editor of The Shout in 2015, writing news on a daily basis and also writing features for National Liquor News. Now Managing Editor of both The Shout and Bars and Clubs.

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