Residents of greater Brisbane have been hit with a snap three-day lockdown in an attempt to prevent the spread of the highly infectious UK variant of coronavirus.
Queensland’s premier, Annastacia Palaszczuk, has ordered people in five sprawling council areas to stay at home from 6pm on Friday until 6pm on Monday, saying the state had to move quickly after a quarantine hotel cleaner was confirmed to have been out in the community while infectious.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, has praised the move as a “wise call” that would buy much needed time.
Tasmania quickly announced a ban on travellers from the Brisbane, Logan, Ipswich, Moreton Bay and Redlands council areas. The Northern Territory declared greater Brisbane a Covid-19 hotspot and said it would require travellers to quarantine.
Acting New South Wales premier, John Barilaro, said he would not close the state’s border with Queensland but expected anyone who’d been in greater Brisbane for any time from 2 January onwards, and was now in NSW, to abide by the lockdown.
“At no point during this pandemic have we ever had a knee-jerk reaction or treated the border like a light switch. What we do is work with our counterparts, offer support, because whatever happens in Queensland impacts NSW and any other state,” he told reporters.
People entering NSW from Queensland will be asked to account for their movements, with road travellers urged to track their stops in case the information is needed for contact tracing later.
As of 6pm on Friday, anyone from the affected council areas who does leave home must wear a mask. Children under the age of 12 are exempt.
Residents can only leave their households for essential work, to care for a vulnerable person, and for essential shopping and exercise within local neighbourhoods.
The lockdown also applies to anyone who has been in the greater Brisbane area since 2 January but has since moved elsewhere in the state. People who have gone on holiday in the intervening period have been told to stay where they are.
Palaszczuk also revealed Queensland had recorded nine more coronavirus cases, all in hotel quarantine, from more than 13,000 tests carried out on Thursday.
“We need to do this,” the premier said. “If we do not do this now, it could end up being a 30-day lockdown.”
Palaszczuk said authorities had identified 79 close contacts of the hotel cleaner with the UK variant, with all now in quarantine awaiting tests.
The state’s chief health officer, Dr Jeannette Young, said the lockdown would buy contact tracers time to find everyone who had come into contact with the cleaner, who worked a casual shift at the Hotel Grand Chancellor in Brisbane on 2 January.
She tested positive for the UK variant on Thursday, but before that had used public transport and visited shopping centres while infectious.
Young said it was crucial that every one of those contacts was found and contained, until tests proved they posed no risk.
“It’ll be too late if on Monday I stand up here in front of you and say we’ve had 10 cases and they’ve been out infectious in the community infecting people,” she said.
“We can’t put it back in the box.”
Young appealed for people not to panic buy but there were chaotic scenes at some Brisbane supermarkets within an hour of the lockdown announcement.
At Wynnum, on Brisbane’s bayside, resident Charlie Stevens said it was “bedlam” at his local Woolworths store, and there was no social distancing going on.
“I’ve never seen anything like this. There won’t be anything on the shelves in a couple of hours,” he told Guardian Australia.
“The lines go right around the aisles, around the perimeter of the supermarket. I needed a couple of basics but people are going crazy, it’s only three days for god’s sake.”
During the lockdown, Young said, funerals would be limited to 20 people, and weddings to 10.
“We are asking people not to go to any non-essential businesses, such as hairdressers, nail salons etc, cinemas, gyms … sporting activities over the weekend.
“All of that is just on hold. We just need to take a pause for the next three days and just see what this single case means.”
Restrictions have already been imposed on access to aged care homes, hospitals, disability services and corrections facilities.
The health minister, Yvette D’Ath, said the risk could not be overstated.
“We know this is going to be tough, particularly on businesses, but better we do this for three days and get this under control than spend weeks or months in strict restrictions,” she said.
“Any delay could see significant, if not catastrophic results. This is not hypothetical. We’re seeing this playing out in the United Kingdom right now.”