Australia's Victoria keeps cap on arrivals after cluster at quarantine hotel

SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian state of Victoria stepped back on Wednesday from plans to let more people return from abroad each week, following a cluster of cases linked to a hotel at Melbourne Airport used for quarantining arrivals from overseas.

FILE PHOTO: People depart a hotel where tennis players and personnel preparing for the Australian Open were tested for the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) following the news a quarantine hotel worker tested positive in Melbourne, Australia, February 4, 2021. REUTERS/Loren Elliott

Eight COVID-19 infections were linked the hotel after two more people – one a guest in quarantine and the other a worker -tested positive in the past 24 hours, state authorities said.

The remaining guests were transferred to another hotel to serve their quarantine and more than 100 workers were also placed in quarantine, authorities said.

Everyone arriving in Australia has faced a mandatory 14-day quarantine period at a hotel, including tennis players competing in the Australian Open tournament that got underway in Melbourne earlier this week.

The cluster has stirred fears of a fresh wave of infections in the state hardest hit by COVID-19. Victoria had more than 20,000 cases last year, forcing authorities to implement a strict lockdown lasting more than 100 days, the most severe action taken by any Australian state.

Brett Sutton, Victoria state’s Chief Health Officer, said they believed cluster can be traced back to the use of a nebuliser – which vaporises medications before being inhaled.

“We think that the exposures are all [related] to that event, the use of a nebuliser,” Sutton told reporters in Melbourne.

“The virus was carried out into the corridor and exposed the authorised officer, and the food and beverage service worker and also the other resident.”

Responding the latest scare, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said a plans to increase from next week the cap on international arrivals from 1,100 a week to 1,300 had been suspended.

Last March, Canberra set a cap on people returning to the country at just over 6,000 per week. The government said late last year that 30,000 Australian citizens and permanent residents remained on a register of people wishing to come home.

Suffering some 22,000 cases and 909 deaths, Australia has been among the world’s more successful countries in handling the pandemic, largely because of decisive lockdowns and borders sealed to all but a trickle of travellers.

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