South Australia announces 6-day statewide lockdown to stifle highly contagious Covid-19 outbreak

South Australia announced a six-day lockdown on Wednesday to stamp out a fresh coronavirus outbreak which has put the country back on high alert.
Medical staff take details from people queueing at a Covid-19 testing site in Adelaide on Nov 17, 2020.
Medical staff take details from people queueing at a Covid-19 testing site in Adelaide on Nov 17, 2020.PHOTO: REUTERS

SYDNEY (REUTERS) - South Australia on Wednesday (Nov 18) declared a six-day lockdown to stamp out what the state premier described as a highly contagious coronavirus outbreak that officials linked to a returned traveller from the UK.

Most businesses will close except for some food outlets, and people will be largely confined to their homes, as the state tries to avoid a more severe breakout like the one that all but shuttered neighbouring Victoria for more than 100 days. 

"We need this circuit breaker, this community pause," South Australia state Premier Steven Marshall told the media on Wednesday.

"We are going hard and we are going early. Time is of the essence and we must act swiftly and decisively."

The southern state, home to just under 1.8 million people, reported two new cases on Wednesday, taking the total to 22.

The cluster started to emerge at the weekend, representing the first serious signs of community transmission in South Australia since mid-April. 

While the case numbers remain modest, Mr Marshall said the state needed to act quickly because the identified virus strain was "highly contagious with short incubation period and limited symptoms".

Authorities said on Wednesday that a hotel cleaner contracted the virus from a quarantined returned traveller from the United Kingdom.

The cleaner then spread the virus to her extended family in Adelaide, the state’s capital city. 

It was taking 24 hours or less for a newly infected person to become infectious to others, authorities said. 

The South Australian government did not immediately respond to questions from Reuters about the specific strain on Wednesday.

Dr Peter Collignon, an infectious diseases physician and microbiologist at Canberra Hospital, said given the virus was brought in from an overseas traveller, it would not be a new strain. 

"It may be different to what has been prevalent in Australia but it isn’t any more deadly or contagious," said Dr Collignon. 

The lockdown, to take effect from midnight Wednesday, will mean 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. 

All schools, takeaway food, pubs, cafes and universities will be closed, along with the construction industry, which has been allowed to operate during past lockdowns in Australia. 

Aged care and disability residential facilities, some of the most vulnerable to corornavirus, 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. 

Regional travel is also not approved and Fifo (fly in fly out) resource work will be stopped for six days. 

Australia’s Acting Chief Medical Officer Paul Kelly said South Australian authorities had found secondary cases of Covid-19 were spreading quickly in the new outbreak. 

"There are a range of options as to why that may be the case but at the moment we don’t have any evidence that the virus has changed in any way to become more infectious or more dangerous," he said.

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. 

New South Wales state, of which Sydney is the capital city, reported zero local and seven imported cases.