Melbourne starts snap virus lockdown, no crowds at Australian Open

Players in'bubble as Australian Open continues without fans

"This is not the position Victorians wanted to be in but I can't have a situation where in two weeks' time, we look back and wish we had taken these decisions now", Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Saturday. It is the third time that Melbourne will be heading into a coronavirus lockdown this year after a cluster of cases emerged at a hotel.

The lockdown across Victoria state from midnight (1300 GMT) was ordered out of fear a small outbreak of the "hyper-infectious" United Kingdom strain of the virus would undo Australia's so-far successful battle to contain the pandemic, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said.

Among the "essential" work, play at the Australian Open, the year's first Grand Slam tennis event which runs to Feb 21, continued, but fans were banned through Wednesday.

Victorian authorities are expecting an outbreak of the United Kingdom strain of coronavirus from a quarantine hotel to grow, as the state enters the first day of a snap lockdown called on Friday in a bid to dampen community transmission.

"There are no fans. These people are essentially at their workplace", he said.

The event had already been limited to 50% of usual capacity and was dogged by earlier complaints from some global players, who were forced to spend critical preparation time in quarantine.

"Just fingers crossed that it only does extend for the short period of five days", he said. Spectators will be able to attend games scheduled for Friday, while those who had bought tickets to restricted events will get a refund, they said in a statement.

Global flights to Melbourne will be stopped through Wednesday, after five en-route, with about 100 passengers, land on Saturday.

"This is not the 2020 virus, this is different, this is something very, very different", he said.

"We will continue to monitor it on a day-by-day basis, really it is up to the shared effort of all Victorians".

It was a devastating setback for residents and businesses who underwent a similar lockdown in and around Melbourne for more than 100 days late previous year in a successful effort to contain an earlier outbreak that infected thousands and killed about 800.

Mildura Regional Development chief executive Brett Millington said local business owners were angered that regional Victoria was again grouped with metropolitan Melbourne under the harsh restrictions.

More broadly, Australia has been among the world's most successful countries in handling the pandemic, largely because of decisive lockdowns and borders sealed to all but a trickle of travellers.

With a population of 25 million, there have been around 22,200 community cases and 909 deaths.

Premier Andrews proposed tightening Australia's citizen repatriation program to compassionate reasons only, a move that could get some support from other states that have had the United Kingdom strain.

The National Retail Association (NRA) said the five-day lockdown would be a crushing blow to the state's retailers.



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