Australia’s second most populous state Victoria will enter a seven-day lockdown to counter a fast-spreading outbreak in its capital, Melbourne.
The lockdown will begin at midnight on Thursday (14:00 GMT).
Authorities have so far found 26 cases, and identified 150 sites where people may have been exposed to the virus.
For locals, there is growing anxiety over similarities between this outbreak and a devastating second wave that swept the state last year.
That outbreak caused more than 20,000 infections and 820 deaths – about 70% of cases and most of the deaths nationwide.
Victoria was forced to endure a marathon 112-day lockdown to bring cases back to zero.
The new outbreak marks the biggest increase in community transmission of the virus in Victoria since then.
On Thursday, the state’s acting Premier James Merlino said the lockdown was necessary given the rapid spread of the virus, describing it as “running faster than we have ever recorded”.
“With 10,000 primary and secondary contacts of cases, with more than 150 exposure sites right around the state of Victoria, we need to act now,” he said.
For the next seven days, Victorians will be required to stay at home except for essential work, shopping, exercise, caregiving or to get a Covid vaccine. No gatherings are allowed and travel is restricted to within 5km (3.1 miles) of the home.
Mask wearing will be mandatory. Schools are closed except for children of essential workers. Places of worship and all non-essential venues will also be closed.
Meanwhile, other Australian states are expected to limit movement from Victoria, with South Australia already blocking travellers from the state.
It is expected that international flights to Melbourne will also be cancelled.
This latest outbreak has been traced to an overseas traveller who tested negative while in quarantine in South Australia. He developed symptoms and tested positive six days after flying back to Melbourne.
Australia has largely staved off widespread transmission of the virus through strict border controls, snap lockdowns and distancing measures.
But the new outbreak has drawn fresh criticism of Australia’s delayed vaccine rollout. (Courtesy BBC)