Ballarat to enter week-long lockdown as regional city records four cases
Ballarat residents are preparing to enter their eighth lockdown from midnight, after the regional city of more than 100,000 people records four new coronavirus cases this week.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced the week-long lockdown this afternoon.
"We have a number of cases and a number of wastewater detections in the Ballarat area," he said.
"Just like the people of Shepparton, I know the people of that proud city will stick together. They will look out for each other, they will support each other and we will be there to support them."
The government said it would increase the number of testing sites, although at this stage asymptomatic people are not being encouraged to get tested unless they have visited exposure sites.
"We will expand sites. We will expand operational hours. We will make it even easier to get tested," Mr Andrews said.
"We want to use this seven-day period to vaccinate as many people as possible."
Before this week, Ballarat had not recorded a COVID-19 case for more than a year.
Long wait times at testing sites
Erin, who had visited one of the exposure sites, told the ABC she had been waiting in a testing line since 9:00am and still had not been tested at 4:00pm.
"I'm getting a bit antsy ... it's horrible, it's just sitting in your car," she said.
"I'm just watching movies on my phone."
A nurse named Taryn, who had been waiting for four hours in the line, said she had been told to come back tomorrow.
"They have to test me, I'm a nurse," she said.
"I took today off work because I was unsure whether I'd been exposed and I just wanted to make sure that I wasn't infecting my patients.
"I just hope everyone gets vaccinated."
Ballarat's UFS COVID testing clinic has reported it is fully booked until the weekend due to the spike in demand.
The clinic said it had brought in additional staff and opened more rooms to cope with the increase.
Extra vaccine doses on the way
Mr Andrews said police would be "out in force" monitoring people entering and leaving the Ballarat area.
Other local government areas that border the regional city are not in lockdown.
"If everyone in Ballarat follows those rules, the lockdown can be off quite soon, just as it was in Shepp," Mr Andrews said.
Victoria's COVID-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar said "thousands of additional doses of vaccine" would be sent to Ballarat, where 69 per cent of people over the age of 16 have already received their first dose.
Mr Weimar said there were 1,500 first-dose appointments available, and he urged people to book if they had not already done so.
Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said it was still "hard to say" how many primary close contacts would emerge in Ballarat.
"There's probably been more widespread transmission than has been detected thus far," he said.
Professor Sutton said the widespread nature of the wastewater detections, in different parts of the city, were key to the decision to put the Ballarat community back into lockdown.
He said there was "some reassurance" the city was not dealing with a school outbreak like Shepparton had during its recent outbreak.
Mayor in isolation
Ballarat Mayor Daniel Moloney is currently in isolation and awaiting a test result after visiting an exposure site on the weekend.
Cr Moloney said the localised outbreak was a shock for the community.
"Because we've gone just over a year now without a single case. I don't think many locals would have been checking exposure sites up until now," he said.
"But from now on we need to be really vigilant ... we've seen this work quite well in other places around the state. Now it's Ballarat's turn and I reckon we'll respond well."
He said it was good to see a nuanced approach being taken to lockdowns but thought it would still be difficult for the community.
"We've been asking for a nuanced approach to lockdowns where we close down if we have cases but we stay open if we don't.
"It now then follows that we should be probably in lockdown, I think a lot of people will understand that and it makes some sense.
"That said, there's a huge amount of fatigue that's just crept in.
"We've been through a long period where businesses haven't had a chance to recover, normally it takes them about six weeks to recover. They've barely had a week ... hopefully there's some good news on the horizon."
Biennale rescheduled again
One of Ballarat's biggest events has had to reschedule again after today's announcement.
Ballarat International Foto Biennale artistic director Fiona Sweet said it had been a tough day.
"This morning I woke up and I was so incredibly excited because it was day one of the opening of the Ballarat Foto Biennale, slightly, of course, delayed," she said.
"People had already purchased tickets, we knew that people would be coming to see the work and it's a beautiful sunny day.
"It was pretty devastating, completely understandable of course and we don't want to be open when there's active cases in Ballarat but it just is a full replanning, rescheduling, reorganising and of course, most sadly, reclosing."
Ballarat response team
Mr Weimar said a response team had been activated to deal with the Ballarat outbreak.
This afternoon the City of Ballarat council, local health services, public health teams, Victoria Police and the Department of Families' housing support will meet.
"The job of the original response team is to provide full support to the wider community around Ballarat, making sure we can support you as we go through a really big testing drive, [and] vaccination drive over the days and weeks ahead," he said.
Three tier 1 exposure sites were listed by the Health Department yesterday afternoon, including Big W, a pizza restaurant and a hotel/restaurant.
The Forge Pizzeria in the city's centre was identified as a tier 1 exposure site yesterday.
Owner Tim Matthews said the shop had closed immediately after being informed and staff started contacting people.
"We just pretty much shutdown straight away and then started notifying as many people as we knew," he said.
"We've got a good social media presence so that was useful to be able to get there very quickly.
"Fortunately for us it was a time where we didn't have a huge amount of people there but I really feel for the people who were in here at the time."