CANBERRA (Reuters) – Australia said on Thursday it had gone more than 48 hours since detecting the last locally acquired case of COVID-19, as Victoria state ended a lockdown letting thousands of tennis fans back in Melbourne Park for the last days of the Australian Open.
Jack Barber, a 25-year-old student, was among 7,477 spectators in the stadium watching Japan’s Naomi Osaka defeat the United States’ Serena Williams to go through to the ladies final.
“Yeah, it’s awesome. I wasn’t sure if they were going to put the event on. It’s been really nice to be here. I actually kind of like the lower crowds,” said Barber, with the Rod Laver Arena limited by social distancing restrictions to half its capacity.
“It’s kind of nice to be able to walk around and go wherever you want.”
Victoria lifted a five-day lockdown late on Wednesday, having ordered one after a spate of cases mostly linked to workers at quarantine hotels for people arriving from abroad.
Authorities said the only case of COVID-19 detected across the country in the past 24 hours involved a person that was already in hotel quarantine after arriving from overseas.
Australia’s Minister for Health Greg Hunt heralded the result but said the toll worldwide illustrates the need for a “broad-scale national vaccination programme”.
Australia’s inoculation programme will begin on Monday, starting with hotel quarantine workers.
“We believe that vaccinating the quarantine and border workers will substantially protect them from transmission, we hope, but certainly from getting symptomatic COVID,” Chief Medical Officer Brendan Murphy told reporters in Canberra.
“That’s our single highest priority in the first few weeks.”
Australia has largely avoided the high rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths seen in other developed countries thanks to border closures and effective contact tracing systems. It has reported just under 29,000 cases and 909 deaths.
(Reporting by Colin Packham; Editing by Simon Cameron-Moore)