The Australian state of Victoria has imposed a brutal ‘stay at home’ lockdown after detecting just 41 cases of the Indian variant, while the UK is lifting restrictions with more than 3,500 Covid cases per day.
Seven million people, the majority in Melbourne, have been ordered to stay indoors in a ‘circuit-breaker’ that started on Friday morning amid concerns that the new Covid variant is more infectious.
Meanwhile in Britain people are returning to pubs, restaurants and hotels amid optimism ahead of ‘freedom day’ on June 21 when England is set to abolish all legal limits on social contact.
The UK is emboldened by its world-beating vaccine drive which has seen hospital admissions for coronavirus, particularly among the elderly, driven down substantially – just 49 NHS beds are occupied by Covid patients today.
Sixty per cent of Britons have received at least one dose and more than a third are fully vaccinated. This compares to just 13 per cent of Australians who’ve had a jab, while less than 2 per cent are fully inoculated.
The glacial vaccine roll-out was one of the reasons Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino gave for the need to lockdown, as well as loose hotel quarantining in Adelaide where the ‘patient zero’ was staying.
But an infectious diseases expert has told Daily Mail Australia that the lockdown is unnecessary because there are no mystery cases and with a universal contact tracing system in place all of this could be avoided.
Professor Peter Collignon, of the Australian National University, said: ‘The main reason for a lockdown is when you have a lot of community cases where you don’t know where they’re coming from because your contact tracers are overwhelmed. The Victorian one hasn’t been in that situation…
‘Lockdowns have a lot of economic and social cost. If you pull the trigger too early you have the cost without necessarily having a better outcome.’
The Australian state of Victoria has imposed brutal ‘stay at home’ lockdown rules after detecting just 41 cases of the Indian variant, while the UK is lifting restrictions with more than 3,500 Covid cases per day (pictured: pigeons sit on empty State Library of Victoria steps on the first day of a seven-day ‘circuit breaker’)
A total of 17 Covid cases were recorded in Australia on Wednesday – this compares to 3,542 total coronavirus cases reported in the UK yesterday. But the state of Victoria has locked down after an outbreak involving 41 cases of the Indian variant
There were just 10 Covid deaths in the UK on Thursday, while the last time Australia recorded a Covid death was on April 12 when just one fatality was recorded
A shopper walks past empty toilet paper shelves in a Melbourne supermarket on Thursday, as the city’s residents returned to a seven day lockdown to curb the spread of the Covid-19 coronavirus
An empty tram is seen on the first day of a seven-day lockdown as the Victorian government ordered residents to stay at home
Empty dining tables are seen at Collins place in Melbourne today
A woman walks past a “Stay Safe Melbourne” sign on a mostly-empty city centre street on the first day of a seven-day lockdown
A woman walks past an empty cafe during morning commute hours on the first day of the ‘circuit breaker’ lockdown
An empty Queen Victoria Market is seen on the first day of a seven-day lockdown
In the UK, the government remained bullish today amid fears that ‘freedom day’ might have to be postponed because the Indian variant is driving up cases and becoming the dominant strain.
Business Secretary Kwasi Kwarteng said: ‘Nothing I’ve seen would suggest that we should extend or delay the date of reopening. But the caveat obviously is the data can change.
‘If scientific evidence, data points to an increased hospitalisation rate, increased degree of risk then we have flexibility to move that date.
‘But as of today I can assure people there is nothing in the data that suggests to me we should move the date.’
The fast-spreading B.1.617.2 strain is now behind up to three quarters of all cases in the UK, and has been found in more than 250 of England’s 300-plus local authorities.
Professor Christina Pagel, a mathematician from University College London, said the Indian variant was causing concern and the unlocking should be delayed by two months to allow millions more to be fully vaccinated.
Meanwhile, one of government’s advisers also called for caution until more of the population has had both jabs.
Professor Andrew Hayward, who is on the Nervtag panel, argued working from home could cut transmission ‘without having any economic impact’.
The Indian variant has similarly raised fears among Australian scientists.
Professor Raina McIntyre of UNSW said the latest outbreak in Victoria required a lockdown because the ‘stakes are higher’ with the Indian strain, known as B.1617.
She told Daily Mail Australia: ‘The virus spreads when people have contact with each other.
‘When it is spreading in the community and you don’t know the full extent, a lockdown helps by greatly reducing the contact between people. Together with a mask mandate, this may be able to control the epidemic.’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said his government backed the lockdown because of the large number of venues in Melbourne that have been visited by positive cases.
Health officials on Friday morning confirmed four new community cases along with two in hotel quarantine from a record 47,462 tests conducted over the past 24 hours.
The additional infections mean the number of active cases state-wide has risen to 39, while more than 15,000 primary and secondary contacts have now been identified across 121 exposure sites.
This compares to 3,542 total coronavirus cases reported in the UK yesterday, an increase of 23 per cent on last week, while ten deaths were added to the toll.
NHS hospital admissions have crept up over the past month in line with infections, with 49 beds now occupied by coronavirus patients – up from 15 at the start of May.
But Dr Helen Wall told BBC Radio 4 they were not as sick as patients they treated in the first or second wave and only five were fully vaccinated.
Prince Charles, Prince of Wales adjusts his face mask to enable him to sip a pint that he pulled in a pub alongside Camilla, Duchess of Cornwall during a visit to Clapham Old Town as Britain continues easing restrictions
Boris Johnson is waiting for key data to show just how more transmissible the Indian variant is to give a clearer picture about how much pressure the NHS may come under in the next few months.
If it proves to spread 50 per cent easier than the Kent strain, which triggered the UK’s second wave, then hospitals could once again face huge pressure, experts fear.
Vaccines aren’t perfect and haven’t completely broken the link to severe illness, meaning the more people infected, the more people who will need care.
Acting Victorian Premier James Merlino has blamed South Australia for allowing patient zero to catch the virus in hotel quarantine in Adelaide and also the federal government for a slow vaccine rollout.
The state government is also demanding federal support for small businesses crippled by the lockdown, with Treasurer Tim Pallas locked in talks with federal treasurer Josh Frydenberg.
But professor Collignon said it was ‘disconcerting’ that Victoria had failed to enforce checking in to venues with QR codes.
‘I actually think at least until October, if you don’t have a QR code you don’t get in,’ he said.
‘If you’re in high-risk places like bars and pubs, you shouldn’t get in if you don’t scan the code.’
The Victorian government is under fire for failing to implement a universal QR check-in system, which helps contact tracers work out where positive cases have been.
Anti-lockdown protesters gather outside of the Victorian State Parliament in Melbourne on Thursday, hours ahead of the restrictions being imposed
Anti-lockdown Protesters (pictured on Thursday night) gathered at Flinders Street Station before storming the streets to spread their message, demanding Daniel Andrews is sacked
‘We have a number of locations where we just don’t think we have captured all the people who were in those venues. It is important to get hold of them,’ testing commander Jeroen Weimar admitted on Friday.
New South Wales has had a mandatory system in place since January and the ACT’s was up and running from March.
A Victorian government survey found that in April only 41 per cent of people checked in to restaurants and pubs in April.
James Newbury, Liberal MP for Brighton, slammed the government for the QR failure and the failure of the coronavirus hotline which crashed on Thursday, stopping residents from booking a vaccine appointment.
He told Daily Mail Australia: ‘Victoria is the only State in Australia to have been locked down four times, a total of 160 days and counting, all because our Labor Government isn’t up to the job of keeping us safe.
‘Victorians deserve lightening fast contact tracing, but instead, Labor has admitted it has fallen down. Even the central virus support hotline has collapsed.’
Mr Newbury said the lockdown had left small businesses scared on the brink of bankruptcy.
‘Labor’s broken government is breaking the State of Victoria,’ he said.