SYDNEY: The state of South Australia on Wednesday (Nov 18) announced a six-day "circuit breaker" lockdown from midnight, as authorities raced to contain a sudden COVID-19 cluster in the city of Adelaide.
Stay-at-home orders were issued for residents across the state, after a cluster of 22 cases began in a hotel used to quarantine travellers from overseas.
"We are going hard and we are going early. Time is of the essence and we must act swiftly and decisively. We cannot wait to see how bad this becomes," state premier Steven Marshall said.
All schools, takeaway food, pubs, cafes and universities will be closed. Regional travel is not approved either, Marshall said.
"We need this circuit breaker, this community pause. This is about South Australia pausing so that we stay ahead of the virus," he said.
People will be restricted from going outside of their homes, with only one person per household allowed to leave each day, but only for specific purposes.
Masks will be required in all areas outside of the home.
Aged care and disability residential facilities, some of the most vulnerable to coronavirus, will be locked down. Weddings and funerals will be banned, along with open real estate auctions and outdoor exercises. Factories other than food and medical products will be closed.
VIRUS STRAIN IN NEW CASES "HIGHLY CONTAGIOUS"
The virus strain in the new cases was "highly contagious with short incubation period and limited symptoms", he said.
"We have one chance, one chance, and will be throwing all our resources at it because we know the consequences of getting it wrong," Marshall said.
Epidemiologists were unsure whether this was a genetically mutated virus strain.
"I haven't seen any official genetic data suggesting it's a new strain," said Professor Raina MacIntyre, head of the biosecurity programme at the Kirby Institute, University of New South Wales.
The short incubation period "doesn't necessarily mean it's a new strain," he said.
"Sometimes when you get a very, very high dose of virus you would become sick sooner. It could just be that."
South Australia state government did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters about the specific strain.
The latest outbreak is linked to an Australian who arrived in the state capital Adelaide from overseas on Nov 2 and entered mandatory quarantine in a hotel. Hotel workers are believed to have contracted the virus after touching a contaminated surface.
"This outbreak started at a hotel from an overseas arrival. It will therefore have come from the United States, Europe, India or some other place so this is not a new strain," said Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at Canberra Hospital.
"It may be different to what has been prevalent in Australia but it isn’t any more deadly or contagious."
South Australia had gone without a local transmission since Oct 31. It now has had a total of only 551 cases.
Elsewhere, in Victoria state, which was the epicentre of Australia's nearly 28,000 cases until last month, clocked its 19th straight day of zero new cases.