Victoria’s fourth COVID-19 lockdown is now underway as authorities urge people to get vaccinated to ensure this is the state’s last.
The seven-day, statewide shutdown kicked in from midnight after a cluster of 26 cases of the Indian variant of the virus emerged in Whittlesea in Melbourne’s north.
“The vaccine is really our only ticket out of this,” Health Minister Martin Foley said.
From Friday, Victorians aged 40 to 49 are eligible for the Pfizer vaccine.
On Thursday, some people calling the state’s coronavirus hotline were on hold for about an hour trying to secure a booking for a vaccination.
The health department said it was flooded with over 77,000 calls in a 15-minute window before”technical issues” were resolved.
The lockdown, seeded in South Australian hotel quarantine, has again raised questions about the capability of Victoria’s contact tracing system, which was partially blamed for the state’s second 112-day lockdown.
But Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said it was “absurd” to suggest contact tracing was failing.
The lockdown is set to end at 11.59pm on June 3, although Acting Premier James Merlino said it be earlier.
Mr Merlino said he had faith in the state’s contact tracing team but the virus was “running faster than we have ever recorded”.
People can only leave home for five reasons – to shop for food and essential items, to provide or receive care, for exercise, work or study or to get vaccinated.
Victorian must observe a five-kilometre travel limit for exercise and shopping, and compulsory wearing of masks both indoors and outdoors.
All non-essential shops are closed but essential stores like supermarkets, bottle shops and pharmacies remain open, with shopping limited to one person per day, per household.
Cafes and restaurants can only offer takeaway.
Childcare and kindergarden facilities will stay open but schools are going back to remote learning for most students. State-run schools are having a pupil-free day on Friday to prepare for the switch.
Meanwhile, Coles has had to impose a limit of two packs of toilet paper per person, after shoppers rushed to stock up.
“We have plenty of stock in our supply chain, and this temporary measure will help us to manage demand so that we can return our stores to a fully-stocked position as quickly as possible,” it said on Friday.
The lockdown is expected to cost Victorian businesses up to $ 1 billion.
Australian Associated Press