Australia's second most populous state Victoria entered a five-day lockdown on Saturday as authorities raced to prevent a third wave of COVID-19 cases sparked by the highly infections United Kingdom variant.
"A lot of people will be hurting today".
"We will have more to say with the passage of time and more results. we are well-placed right now, but right now is too early to be definitive about Wednesday evening", Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
On Friday night, the Victorian government announced a freeze on worldwide passenger flights which would begin from today, excluding flights already in transit.
The cluster that triggered the renewed restrictions stemmed from a quarantine hotel at Melbourne airport.
The harsh restrictions which dominated Melbourne's second-wave lockdown are now in force across the whole state, meaning Victorians can not leave their homes except for the four main reasons of shopping for essential supplies, care and caregiving, limited exercise and essential work.
Tournament director Craig Tiley gave assurances that the Australian Open would continue, with players deemed essential workers and exempt from the lockdown.
The state reverted to stage 4 restrictions on Friday midnight, with the 5-day lockdown aimed to act as a "circuit breaker" curbing the spread of the highly contagious United Kingdom variant of the virus responsible for the Holiday Inn outbreak.
The lockdown, which has shut restaurants and cafes for all but takeaway, hit just as Melbourne had geared up for the biggest weekend in almost a year, with Lunar New Year celebrations, Valentine's Day and Australian Open crowds.
It was a devastating setback for residents and businesses who underwent a similar lockdown in and around Melbourne for more than 100 days late past year in a successful effort to contain an earlier outbreak that infected thousands and killed about 800.
Players also stayed in a "bubble" environment at last year's US Open in NY, which went ahead behind closed doors, and the delayed French Open. "I'm sitting here making 178 heartbreaking phone calls to see if I can get them to rebook", said Will Baa, owner of Lover, a restaurant in the hip district of Windsor.
"It is quite soul destroying".
"Just fingers crossed that it only does extend for the short period of five days", he said.
With just under 29,000 Covid-19 cases and 909 deaths since the pandemic began, Australia has escaped the high number of cases and deaths recorded by many other developed countries thanks to border closures and lockdowns.
"That may be bad luck but it could also be differences in the way that the quarantine program is being managed by the new body, COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, and the Department of Health". So far only direct contacts of workers at the hotel have tested positive. That case has yet to be included in the country's total of 25 Covid-19 deaths.