Aus PM vows lockdown support for 2nd-most populous state

A general view of the MCG after it was listed as an exposure site

The "circuit-breaker" lockdown is created to allow contact tracers to get on top of cases, with residents permitted to leave home only for essential reasons including getting vaccinated.

Community sport will not go ahead this weekend, while professional sport will proceed but without crowds. All other students will move to remote learning.

Visitors to aged care facilities will be banned except for limited reasons, while visitors to hospitals will be restricted to those supporting a partner during birth, a parent accompanying a child, or end of life reasons.

Victoria will enter a lockdown for seven days after the coronavirus cluster in Melbourne's north grew to 26 cases on Thursday.

Religious activities will not take place, other than through a broadcast that involves a maximum of five people.

In a statement, Merlino said: "It's clear more than ever, this virus isn't going away and vaccines are the only way we'll ever get back to normal". More than 40,000 Victorians were tested for the virus yesterday - one of the highest testing numbers since the pandemic's start.

Authorities are rushing to contain the outbreak of the highly infectious COVID-19 Indian variant, with more than 150 places across the state marked as exposure sites, including a hairdresser in Bendigo and a football ground in Cohuna.

He said "the time between catching the virus and passing it on is faster than ever", being only one day-compared to a five-day period previously seen previously.

Some 10,000 primary and secondary contacts of those confirmed cases have been identified, with that cohort required to quarantine or test and isolate.

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All of those cases are linked, Merlino said. "But despite that, this variant is moving at a faster pace".

The new Melbourne cluster was found after a traveler from India became infected while in hotel quarantine in South Australia state earlier this month.

In recent months, Australians had largely been enjoying few restrictions after the country successfully contained the spread of coronavirus, but critics say a glacial vaccine rollout has left the nation vulnerable to outbreaks from hotel quarantine facilities.

In response to the new outbreak, Victoria will also accelerate its state-run vaccination program, with those over 40 years old now free to receive the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine at state vaccination hubs.

Health Minister Greg Hunt added that first vaccine doses were now being delivered to the remaining aged care homes in Victoria, where hundreds died when the virus swept through the facilities a year ago.

The lockdown comes after Victorian officials on Wednesday recorded 15 cases of COVID-19, the disease caused by the CCP (Chinese Communist Party) virus.

"If you're eligible, get vaccinated", he said.

"If we had the vaccine, the Commonwealth's vaccine programme effectively rolled out, we may well not be here today".

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