SYDNEY: Australia's Queensland state warned on Tuesday (Mar 30) that more cases of COVID-19 were expected to emerge as authorities scrambled to contain an outbreak linked to the virulent UK variant, throwing Easter travel plans into disarray.
Officials reported eight new locally acquired cases on Tuesday, taking the total in the latest outbreak to 15 so far. All of the cases were linked to two distinct virus clusters, one related to a doctor and the second to a nurse, authorities said.
"The fact that we have these cases that are linked is good news," Queensland state Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters. "Do we expect to see more cases? Probably. Probably, we will see more."
Brisbane, the state capital, has been placed under a three-day lockdown until Thursday, requiring more than 2 million city residents to stay home except for essential work, healthcare, grocery shopping or exercise.
The restrictions upended holiday plans for thousands as the lockdown is scheduled to end just a day before the Easter long weekend and the school term break in Australia, a popular time for vacations.
Several states closed their borders with Queensland, while others will require travellers from the virus hotspots to self-isolate for two weeks on their return.
Brisbane Airport forecast a steep drop in the number of domestic travellers passing through the airport by the weekend compared with its pre-lockdown expectations.
"This week we had forecast 35,000 to 40,000 per day. However, today this number was closer to 15,000 and we anticipate this may drop to under 10,000 per day by the weekend," a spokeswoman told Reuters.
Lockdown and border controls could put the state's businesses under more strain as the government's A$90 billion (US$69 billion) job subsidy scheme ended on Sunday.
Neighbouring New South Wales (NSW) state, Australia's most populous, is also on alert after two of the Queensland cases, a nurse and her sister, travelled while unknowingly infectious to Byron Bay, a tourist town just south of the Queensland border and home to Hollywood A-listers such as Chris Hemsworth.
Health alerts have been issued for a hotel, cafe and restaurant exposed to the virus as officials urged patrons to test and isolate.
"I hope that we do not have any cases emerge in New South Wales, but I won't be surprised if we did. So, we need to brace ourselves," NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said.
Snap lockdowns, social distancing rules and speedy contact tracing systems have helped Australia to contain fresh clusters in recent months. It has reported just under 29,300 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began.