More than two million people in Brisbane were ordered into a three-day lockdown today after just four new Covid-19 cases were found in Australia’s third-largest city.
The order by Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk is the latest in a series of snap lockdowns imposed by Australian leaders at the first sign of community spread.
Authorities announced four new locally transmitted cases on Monday, bringing the total to seven in a cluster of infections caused by the feared British variant.
Shoppers were once again filling trolleys with toilet roll today while there were queues of passengers at Brisbane Airport after the lockdown was announced.
Familiar scenes: Toilet-roll stockpiling was back on the agenda for Brisbane residents today after the city was ordered into a snap three-day lockdown
Queues: Passengers check in to board flights out of Brisbane at the city’s main airport on Monday as Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk announced the new lockdown
Australia has kept infections low after its two major outbreaks during 2020, but it has come at the cost of a near-total border closure and a series of snap lockdowns
Announcing the stay-at-home order today, Palaszczuk pointed to the success of a similar circuit breaker in January after a single case of the UK variant was found.
She added that lockdowns such as this one would ‘be part of the Australian way of life until everyone is vaccinated’.
‘This is the UK strain. It is highly infectious. We need to do this now to avoid a longer lockdown,’ she said.
‘We’ve seen what’s happened in other countries. I don’t want to see that happen to Queensland, I don’t want to see that happen to Australia.’
Australia has seen only 29,260 infections and 909 deaths during the pandemic, making it one of the more successful wealthy countries in handling the crisis.
But it has come at the cost of a near-total border closure and a series of rapid shutdowns that bring a shuddering halt to the generally high degree of freedom.
Authorities in Melbourne last month imposed a lockdown in response to just 13 cases linked to one of Australia’s hotel quarantine facilities.
And in January, Brisbane was shut down over a single case of the UK variant which was found in a quarantine hotel worker.
‘That worked very well when we did that last time,’ Palaszczuk said, adding that ‘I know this is a really big call and I know it is really tough.
Queensland premier Annastacia Palaszczuk, pictured announcing the lockdown today, pointed to the success of a similar measure in January after just one case was found
Testing: Brisbane residents are processed through a drive-in screening centre at Bowen Hills in Brisbane on Monday
Millions across Greater Brisbane – which includes Brisbane, Logan, Moreton Bay, Ipswich and Redlands – will go into lockdown for three days from 5pm on Monday
The latest outbreak is the first significant community spread in Australia for weeks, but the vaccine roll-out has been sluggish with only 500,000 injections so far.
It falls far short of a government target to vaccinate four million of the country’s 25million population by the end of March.
Australia did not grant emergency approval for any of the available vaccines and did not start giving out injections until late February.
Before the announcement, Brisbane was among several Australian cities enjoying relaxed restrictions with residents able to attend events including concerts and sporting fixtures.
The lockdown comes just ahead of the Easter long weekend beginning Friday, throwing school holiday plans into chaos.
Brisbane’s restaurants and bars will close from 5pm on Monday but people will still be allowed to leave home for essential purposes.
Schools in the city will be closed from Tuesday, funerals capped at 20 people and weddings limited to 10 people.
Wearing masks in public is also becoming mandatory across Queensland, after one infectious person travelled to the regional town of Gladstone.
The number of international flight arrivals to the state will be halved to ease pressure on hospitals, which are also dealing with a surge in Covid-19 cases from neighbouring Papua New Guinea.
Virgin Australia said all its domestic flights into the city were operating as normal on Monday but schedules could be changed in response to demand.