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Australia’s fourth-biggest city entered a three-day lockdown on Saturday to prevent the spread of Covid-19 after a returned overseas traveler who’d completed hotel quarantine tested positive for the virus.
More than 2 million people in Perth and a neighboring region will have to stay home except for essential work, medical care, provisions or exercise. Authorities are racing to contact and test people who may have been exposed to the man, who was released from 14 days of quarantine on April 17, flew to Melbourne four days later and tested positive on Friday.
“It is critically important to give our contact tracers and health teams the time they need to ensure community spread is limited,” Western Australia state Premier Mark McGowan said.
New Zealand, which has a quarantine-free travel bubble with Australia, has halted flights from the state.
The man was infected after the virus spread from an adjacent room, potentially through the ventilation system –heightening concerns about the suitability of some hotels to isolate returned travelers. A close contact of the man has tested positive, and another local case was recorded Saturday after more than 2,500 tests at public clinics.
While Australia has come close to eliminating local transmission of the virus by closing its international border to non-residents, occasional cases leak into the community from quarantine hotels via infected security guards or cleaners, or travelers who have caught Covid-19 during mandatory isolation. As virus cases surge in countries such as India, there are fears Australia’s quarantine system will buckle with more returning travelers testing positive.
The Northern Territory government said Saturday that eight people who are in isolation after arriving on flights from Chennai and New Delhi had tested positive for the virus.
The main Labor opposition is demanding Prime Minister Scott Morrison speeds up the sluggish vaccine rollout to mitigate such risks.
McGowan has asked Morrison’s government to halve the number of overseas travelers arriving in Western Australia each month and also provide federal isolation facilities to ease the pressure.
“Hotel quarantine is an imperfect system,” he told reporters. “The pandemic will be here for at least the rest of this year. It is time for the Commonwealth to step up and help.”
(Updates with another infection reported in fifth paragraph)