MELBOURNE • Australia’s second-largest city of Melbourne went from welcoming thousands of fans for its Grand Slam tennis tournament to deserted streets yesterday, as millions began a five-day lockdown amid fears of a third wave of Covid-19 cases sparked by the infectious British variant.

One new locally acquired case was confirmed in the past 24 hours, the authorities said yesterday, taking the number of cases tied to a quarantine hotel at Melbourne airport to 14 and total active cases in Victoria state to 20.

“A lot of people will be hurting today. This is not the position Victorians wanted to be in, but I can’t have a situation where in two weeks’ time we look back and wish we had taken these decisions now,” Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters yesterday.

International flights have been stopped through Wednesday, after five that were already en route to the city with about 100 passengers landed yesterday.

All 14 cases in the airport cluster are due to the highly infectious British variant of the coronavirus. So far, only direct contacts of workers at the hotel have tested positive. “It’s contained in that sense. There is concern in Victoria about spread into the community,” Australia’s chief medical officer Paul Kelly told reporters.

Streets in downtown Melbourne, the state’s capital, and its suburbs were almost empty yesterday, with people ordered to stay home for all but essential shopping, two hours of outdoor exercise, caregiving or work that cannot be done from home.

Among the “essential” work, play at the Australian Open, the year’s first Grand Slam tennis event which runs to Feb 21, continued, but fans are banned through Wednesday.

Australia has been among the world’s most successful countries in containing the coronavirus, with under 29,000 cases and 909 deaths in a population of more than 25 million.

REUTERS, AGENCE FRANCE-PRESSE