SYDNEY (REUTERS) - One of Australia's strictest lockdowns kicked off in the country's south on Thursday (Nov 19) with outdoor gatherings, weddings, funerals and takeaway food all coming to a standstill as authorities try to stifle a fresh coronavirus outbreak.
Images on social media showed empty morning streets in South Australia's capital of Adelaide on the first day of the lockdown. Last night, residents flocked to supermarkets to pile up on supplies.
The state, home to about 1.8 million people, has so far recorded 23 cases from the current cluster. There were no new cases on Thursday while 3,200 close contacts of those infected are already in quarantine, chief public health officer for South Australia Health Nicola Spurrier told a news conference.
Authorities on Wednesday had imposed a six-day lockdown to stamp out what the state premier described as a highly contagious outbreak of the coronavirus disease that officials linked to a returned traveller from the United Kingdom.
"We've had to take this extreme action, this important intervention, to put a circuit breaker in place to deal with this disease," South Australia Premier Steven Marshall told national broadcast ABC.
"We have a particularly difficult strain of the disease, which is showing no symptoms for people who become infected," he added.
When asked if six days would be enough, Mr Marshall said: "I'm advised that that will be the time required to knock out those transmission chains for this particular strain."
Experts said it was still unclear whether South Australia was experiencing a new virus strain as genomic data was not yet available.
"Moreover, the circulating UK strains aren't different from what is circulating in other areas, suggesting it is unlikely there is a 'UK super strain'," said Professor Nigel McMillan, director in infectious diseases and immunology at Menzies Health Institute Queensland, Griffith University.
"Of course, a novel strain might have arisen very recently so we await the evidence."
Elsewhere, Victoria state, which was the epicentre of Australia's nearly 28,000 cases until last month, clocked its 20th straight day of zero new cases.
New South Wales, of which Sydney is the capital, also reported zero local cases.
South Australia's lockdown casts a shadow on optimism about a strong and swift recovery for the country's A$2 trillion (S$1.96 trillion) economy ahead of Christmas, just as Victoria was coming out of its 112-day isolation.
"Overall activity over the last fortnight picked up sharply around Australia as restrictions eased in Victoria and some (state) borders opened," ANZ bank economists said.
"The unfortunate outbreak in South Australia though could impact overall activity figures in the lead up to the holiday season."