Australia’s southern state of Victoria will enter into a one-week “circuit breaker” lockdown beginning Thursday as it deals with a new and growing outbreak of COVID-19 cases.
The lockdown was ordered after health authorities announced 12 new confirmed cases in Melbourne, bringing the total number of infections in the state capital to 26.
Acting state Premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne the new outbreak is due to “a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern, which is running faster than we have ever recorded.” The new cases are linked to an overseas traveler who became infected with a variant first detected in India during his mandatory hotel quarantine phase.
During the lockdown, residents will be allowed to leave their homes only for essential work, school, shopping, caregiving, exercise and medical reasons, including receiving their scheduled coronavirus vaccinations.
The new lockdown is the fourth one imposed on Victoria state since the start of the pandemic. The most severe period occurred in mid-2020 and lasted more than three months as Victoria was under the grip of a second wave of COVID-19 infections that killed more than 800 people.
Merlino had already imposed a new set of restrictions for Australia's second-most populous state, including limiting the size of public gatherings and making mask wearing mandatory in restaurants, hotels and other indoor venues until June 4.
Vaccine for ICE
The American Civil Liberties Union requested Thursday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "provide immediate vaccine access to the more than 22,100 people in ICE custody."
"Over the course of the pandemic, ICE detention facilities have been some of the worst hotspots for the spread of COVID-19, with positivity rates five times greater than prisons and 20 times greater than the general U.S. population," said the ACLU's Eunice Cho.
The ACLU also said the COVID-19 death toll was actually higher than ICE reported because many of the infected people died after being released from the hospital.
In other developments, the COVAX initiative to ensure vaccinations for vulnerable people called on world leaders Thursday to help deliver 2 billion doses of vaccines globally this year as it faces a shortage of 190 million doses by the end of June.
COVAX also said it needed global help to make 1.8 billion doses available to 92 lower-income economies by early 2022.
"We are seeing the traumatic effects of the terrible surge of COVID-19 in South Asia — a surge which has also severely impacted global vaccine supplies," COVAX said in a statement.
New vaccine late-stage clinical trial
Two European pharmaceutical giants, France’s Sanofi and Britain’s GlaxoSmithKline, announced Thursday that they are beginning a late-stage clinical trial of their experimental, recombinant COVID-19 vaccine after reporting positive results from a smaller scale trial.
The expanded trial will involve over 35,000 adults in Asia, Africa and Latin America and the United States.
The drugmakers will test the efficacy of the new vaccine through a two-stage approach, the first on the original version of the coronavirus, while a second stage will target the B.1.351 variant that was first detected in South Africa.
Tests will also be run on the Sanofi-GSK vaccine in the coming weeks to determine if it can be used as a booster shot for a previous inoculation, regardless of what vaccine a recipient had initially received.
An official with Sanofi says the vaccine could be granted authorization for use in the last quarter of this year if the Stage 3 trials are successful.