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Single New COVID-19 Case Sends Australian State Into 5-Day Lockdown

A security guard takes the temperature of a customer at a shopping precinct in Sydney, Australia, Jan. 3, 2021.
A security guard takes the temperature of a customer at a shopping precinct in Sydney, Australia, Jan. 3, 2021.

The city of Perth in Western Australia has entered a five-day lockdown after a security guard working at a quarantine hotel tested positive for coronavirus. It is the state’s first locally acquired coronavirus case in 10 months. Australia has recorded 28,811 COVID-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, according to official government figures.

Just a single new COVID-19 case has sent most of Western Australia’s 2.7 million residents into lockdown. It highlights the nation’s very cautious response to the pandemic. It is not yet known how the security guard working in a quarantine hotel in Perth for travelers returning from overseas contracted the virus. Schools, restaurants, and gyms will close for at least five days. Only essential travel is allowed, and masks must be worn.

Western Australian premier Mark McGowan believes the state is dealing with a highly contagious strain of coronavirus that first emerged in Britain.

“We are told the guard was working on the same floor as a positive U.K. variant case. The guard completed two 12- hour shifts on both the 26th and 27th of January. Exactly how the infection was acquired remains under investigation,” McGowan said.

Epidemiologist Nancy Baxter says the lockdown in Western Australia has come as a shock to many people.

“They are kind of living their lives as if COVID didn't exist. So, now when you have someone who may have been in the community for four to five days in an infectious state, it's possible that the virus has spread widely. It is likely a more infectious variant to the virus, either the U.K. virus or the South African variant of the virus. So, there is even more potential for it to have spread widely. So, you know, I think this is a precautionary approach,” Baxter said.

Other states and territories have imposed restrictions on travelers arriving from Western Australia.

The protocols in other parts of Australia are very different. Health officials have said up to 30,000 tennis fans will be allowed to attend the Australian Open each day. The tournament starts in Melbourne next week.

Authorities in Queensland are reopening the state border on Monday with New South Wales after COVID-19 outbreaks in Sydney over the holiday period were contained.
A so-called “travel bubble” has reopened between Australia and one of its closest neighbors after no new COVID-19 infections were detected in New Zealand. Passengers entering Australia will be screened before and after flights for the next 10 days but will no longer have to go into quarantine upon arrival.

Australia closed its international borders to foreign travelers in March. Those controls are expected to remain for the rest of this year.

The health department Monday estimated there were 66 active coronavirus cases in Australia.