Australia's Victoria State Back Under Lockdown Amid New COVID Outbreak


Melbourne went back under lockdown on Friday, as Australian health authorities said a cluster of confirmed COVID-19 positive cases had increased to 39.

Health officials have ordered residents to stay home for seven days to prevent the infection from spreading and buy time to investigate how the virus was transmitted from a man being quarantined at a hotel.

The outbreak has been traced to an overseas traveler who was found to be infected with an Indian variant of the coronavirus.

The acting premier of Australia's southern state of Victoria, James Merlino, told reporters in Melbourne that the new outbreak is the result of "a highly infectious strain of the virus, a variant of concern, which is running faster than we have ever recorded."

During the lockdown, residents will be allowed to leave their homes only for essential work, school, shopping, caregiving, exercise and medical reasons, including receiving their scheduled coronavirus vaccinations.

The new lockdown is the fourth one imposed on Victoria state since the start of the pandemic. The most severe period occurred in mid-2020 and lasted more than three months as Victoria was in the grip of a wave of COVID-19 infections that killed more than 800 people.

Merlino had already imposed a new set of restrictions for Australia's second-most populous state, including limiting the size of public gatherings and making mask wearing mandatory in restaurants, hotels and other indoor venues until June 4.

Vaccine for ICE

The American Civil Liberties Union requested Thursday that the U.S. Department of Homeland Security and U.S. Immigration and Customs Enforcement "provide immediate vaccine access to the more than 22,100 people in ICE custody."

"Over the course of the pandemic, ICE detention facilities have been some of the worst hotspots for the spread of COVID-19, with positivity rates five times greater than prisons and 20 times greater than the general U.S. population," said the ACLU's Eunice Cho.

The ACLU also said the COVID-19 death toll was actually higher than ICE reported because many of the infected people died after being released from the hospital.

Also in the U.S., Facebook said it will no longer remove statements that COVID-19 is created by humans or manufactured “in light of ongoing investigations into the origin of COVID-19 and in consultation with public health experts."

Since the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, Facebook has changed its policy several times on what is allowed on the topic and was not. Another claim banned for being discussed on the platform was the notion that vaccines were not effective or that they were toxic.

In other developments, the COVAX initiative to ensure vaccinations for vulnerable people called on world leaders Thursday to help deliver 2 billion doses of vaccines globally this year, as it faces a shortage of 190 million doses by the end of June.

COVAX also said it needed global help to make 1.8 billion doses available to 92 lower-income economies by early 2022.

"We are seeing the traumatic effects of the terrible surge of COVID-19 in South Asia — a surge which has also severely impacted global vaccine supplies," COVAX said in a statement.

New vaccine late-stage clinical trial

Two European pharmaceutical giants, France's Sanofi and Britain's GlaxoSmithKline, announced Thursday that they are beginning a late-stage clinical trial of their experimental recombinant COVID-19 vaccine after reporting positive results from a smaller-scale trial.

The expanded trial will involve more than 35,000 adults in Asia, Africa, Latin America and the United States.

The drugmakers will test the efficacy of the new vaccine through a two-stage approach. The first stage will be tested on the original version of the coronavirus, while the second stage will target the B.1.351 variant that was first detected in South Africa.

The Sanofi-GSK vaccine will also be tested in the coming weeks to determine if it can be used as a booster shot for a previous inoculation, regardless of the vaccine the recipient had initially received.

An official with Sanofi says the vaccine could be granted authorization for use in the last quarter of this year if the Stage 3 trials are successful.

Source: Voice of America