By Kaden Pradhan
London, United Kingdom
A snap lockdown has been extended in Melbourne, Australia, over fears surrounding a new strain of COVID-19 spreading rapidly in the state of Victoria. A new version of the so-called ‘Indian variant’, classified as B1617-1 Kappa, has been spreading rapidly in parts of Australia and has caused state authorities in Victoria to withhold the easing of restrictions in Melbourne. The lockdown was originally designed to last until the beginning of June, but a sharp rise in infections forced officials to lengthen the quarantine period.
The B1617 variant, often referred to as the ‘Indian variant’, has spread rapidly to become a global concern. First identified in the Subcontinent, the variant is now prevalent around the world. It accounts for 7% of new cases in the US, rising from 1% within weeks. A different version of the variant, known as B1617-2 Delta, is also causing dangerous spikes in infections in ‘hotspots’ in the UK. Similar to the variants which had emerged before it, B1617 is approximately 60% more contagious than the original strain of COVID-19.
The heightened transmissibility of the B1617 variant is what has caused the increased infection rates, according to Jeroen Weimar, Victoria’s testing coordinator. “There is stranger-to-stranger transmission occurring,” he told reporters. “What we are seeing now is people who are brushing past each other in a small shop, going around a display home, looking at phones in a Telstra shop—very fleeting contact, relatively speaking. They don’t know each other’s names. This is very different from where we have been before.”
It was acting Premier of Victoria, James Merlino, who made the key decision to prolong the Melbourne lockdown. Winter is fast approaching for Australia, and the virus becomes more contagious and vicious during the coldest season. “If we let this thing run its course,” he commented, “it will explode.”
He added: “We’ve got to run this to ground because if we don’t, people will die. And if that happens, it’s our most vulnerable—it’s our parents, it’s our grandparents, it’s Victorians with underlying conditions or compromised immunity—it is those Victorians who will pay the price. In the end, this is about saving lives.”