The state of Victoria will enter a seven-day "circuit-breaker" lockdown at 11:59pm on Thursday (local time), Acting Premier James Merlino has announced.
On Thursday morning, the Victoria Department of Health announced an additional 12 cases had been detected in the 24 hours up until midnight. One was reported during Wednesday's press conference, but not included in the official figures, while the other 11 are new.
The 11 new infections are all linked to the existing outbreak in Whittlesea - a local government area in Melbourne's outer northern suburbs - with the cluster now standing at 26 cases.
Watch Thursday's press conference below.
What you need to know
- Victoria will enter a seven-day 'circuit-breaker' lockdown at 11:59pm on Thursday (local time)
- An additional 12 people have tested positive for COVID-19 in Victoria, one of whom was announced yesterday
- The 11 new infections are connected to the Whittlesea cluster, which now stands at 26 cases
- Health officials and senior ministers deliberated into the night after the cluster increased to 15 on Wednesday
- NZ's COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says an update on quarantine-free travel can be expected at around 4pm
- Quarantine-free travel with Victoria was paused on Tuesday for a preliminary 72 hours
- More than 150 exposure sites have been identified, including the MCG and Marvel stadiums
- The outbreak has been linked back to a Melbourne man who tested positive for the virus on May 11 after contracting COVID-19 during his quarantine at Adelaide's Playford Hotel.
These live updates have now finished.
1:50pm - Here is an outline of what the seven-day lockdown will look like for Victorians:
- no visitors will be allowed in the home other than an intimate partner. Single bubbles will be permitted. People who live alone can make a bubble with another person
- no public gatherings will be permitted
- restaurants, pubs and cafes can provide takeaway only
- essential retail - supermarkets, food stores, petrol stations, banks, bottle shops and pharmacies, retail stores - can provide a click-and-collect service
- childcare and kindergartens will be open
- approved professional sporting events will proceed but without crowds
- schools will shift back to remote learning, except for vulnerable children, and children of authorised workers
- higher education will move to remote learning only
- community support and recreation will not be permitted but there will be some exemptions
- hotels, clubs, TABs and the casino will be closed, as well as indoor and outdoor entertainment venues, swimming pools, spas, saunas, community venues, amusements parks and arcades, creative studios, art galleries and museums
- no visitors will be permitted at aged-care facilities except for limited reasons
- hospital visitors will only be permitted for end of life, to support a partner during birth, or a parent accompanying a child
- ceremonies and funerals can have a maximum of 10 people plus those running the service
- weddings cannot proceed unless end of life or deportation reasons apply
- religious activities will not proceed other than through broadcast with a maximum of five people.
1:45pm - Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said health officials "just need to see each and every day what news cases might emerge" when asked if the lockdown could be extended.
"It speaks to the infectiousness of this B161 variant, but also the cycles it's going through. It really is rapid and that's led to the exponential increase," Sutton said.
1:42pm - International flights into Victoria and the existing hotel quarantine system will go ahead as normal, Merlino said.
1:35pm - Western Australia is putting up a hard border with Victoria from 10am (local time) - 2pm NZ time.
1:29pm - Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton says all the cases in the cluster are linked, primarily through an identified workplace, close contacts and their household contacts.
Health officials are concerned about the "highly infectious" nature of the strain at play, B161, with transmission occuring "at a super quick pace".
1:25pm - Vaccination eligibility is being extended in Victoria, with 40 to 49-year-olds now able to receive the Pfizer-BioNTech jab.
"My message to all Victorians is if you are eligible, if you're eligible to get vaccinated, make yourself a plan to do that today, and get it done," Health Minister Foley said.
"The vaccine is really our only ticket out of this."
1:17pm - Acting Premier Merlino reiterated the outbreak began with the hotel quarantine breach in South Australia.
He criticised the state's vaccination rollout, saying "it's not where we hoped it would be, not where it should be".
He suggested the state would not be in this situation if the Commonwealth vaccine programme had not been hindered by delays.
"If we had an alternative to hotel for this particular variant of concern, we would not be here today," Merlino said.
"If we had the vaccine, the Commonwealth's vaccine programme effectively rolled out, we may well not be here today."
He and Health Minister Martin Foley are urging residents to get vaccinated, calling the immunisation "a pillar to help us get out of this".
From Thursday morning, Pfizer-BioNTech vaccinations at state sites will be expanded to include those in the 40 to 49-year-old age group.
1:12pm - Victoria will enter a seven-day 'circuit-breaker' lockdown from 11:59pm on Thursday (local time).
Residents will be able to leave their home for five reasons:
- for authorised work or permitted education
- for exercise with one other person for a maximum of two hours
- for caregiving, compassionate or medical reasons
- to shop for essential items
- to get vaccinated.
"Masks must be worn everywhere", says Merlino - other than the home - including indoor and outdoor settings, unless an exemption applies.
1:10pm - All 12 cases are linked to the existing cluster, which began with a man who contracted the virus in a quarantine hotel in South Australia's Adelaide.
The cluster officially stands at 26 cases.
One of the cases is currently in the ICU on a ventilator, Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters.
More than 10,000 primary and secondary contacts have been identified, and that will continue to grow.
There are now more than 150 exposure sites across Victoria.
12:55pm - Victoria's health authorities will provide a live COVID-19 update at 1pm NZ time.
According to The Guardian, Western Australia has also called a press conference - 9:15am local time - which suggests the state might be banning Melbourne residents from entering.
12:45pm - Two major airlines have cancelled flights in and out of Melbourne as the COVID-19 situation in Victoria continues to spiral.
Qantas has cancelled more than a dozen services either in or out of Melbourne, 7News reports. The airline is understood to have terminated 15 flights on Thursday.
This morning, Virgin Australia also confirmed it had cancelled more than 10 services.
Neither airline has provided details on which routes were cancelled, but said affected customers were contacted directly.
12:15pm - The office of COVID-19 Response Minister Chris Hipkins says an update on the quarantine-free travel bubble will be provided at around 4pm once officials have obtained all the information.
Quarantine-free travel between Victoria and New Zealand was suspended for a preliminary 72-hour period on Tuesday.
12pm - Almost 80 exposure sites have been identified in connection to the Whittlesea cluster in Melbourne's north.
Sites include gyms, restaurants and cafes, malls, sports clubs, supermarkets and both the Marvel and MCG stadiums in Melbourne's central city.
On Wednesday, New Zealand's Ministry of Health acknowledged the possibility that people who have been exposed to the virus in Melbourne may now be in New Zealand.
Health officials are asking anyone who has been in the area to get a test five days after they were last in Whittlesea. They are asked to stay in their accommodation until they have returned a negative test result, even if they do not have symptoms.
Anyone from the wider Melbourne area who develops symptoms while in New Zealand is advised to ring Healthline and arrange a test.
The full list of exposure sites is available on the Victoria Department of Health website.
11:45am - ABC's Victoria state political reporter Richard Willingham has tweeted that the government has settled on a seven-day lockdown that will extend outside of Melbourne.
This has not yet been officially confirmed, but Acting Premier James Merlino and Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton are expected to host a press conference later on Thursday.
Willingham suggested the lockdown will be imposed from midnight.
11:25am - Melbourne is teetering on the brink of lockdown after another 12 locally acquired cases were announced on Thursday morning, 11 of which are understood to be new.
Initial reports from local media have suggested a seven-day lockdown will be imposed to help authorities curb the escalating outbreak.
Some restrictions were reintroduced on Tuesday night. Masks are now mandatory in all indoor settings for people aged 12 and over, and private gatherings in the home are capped at five visitors per day. Public gatherings are restricted to 30 people.
It's understood health officials spent much of Wednesday in crisis talks to determine their next move.
"I want to be upfront with everyone... I cannot rule out taking some further action," Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters on Wednesday.
10:55am - Twelve new cases of COVID-19 have been detected in the 24 hours up until midnight, the Victoria Department of Health has announced.
One of those cases was reported during Wednesday's press conference, meaning 11 are believed to be new.
If the new infections are all linked to the existing Whittlesea outbreak, it will bring the cluster to 26 cases.
Acting Premier James Merlino and Victoria's Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton are expected to hold a press conference later on Thursday to provide an update on the outbreak.
10:40am - Reports from local media suggest Victorian officials will announce a lockdown on Thursday after the cluster increased to 15 cases yesterday.
Although the outbreak is centred in Whittlesea, a local government area located in Melbourne's outer northern suburbs, it's thought the lockdown will extend into greater Victoria.
Victoria's Acting Premier James Merlino raised fears of a possible shutdown on Wednesday, calling the next 24 hours a "critical" period.
"These cases are linked, and that's a good thing, but we are very concerned by the number and by the kind of exposure sites," Merlino told reporters.
It's understood a number of additional cases have since been picked up, with official confirmation coming shortly.