A five-day lockdown has been ordered in the Australian state of Victoria, which includes the city of Melbourne, to control an outbreak of the highly infectious strain of Covid-19 first detected in the UK.

The Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne will be able to continue but without fans, after a five-day lockdown was ordered in the city to control an outbreak of the highly infectious strain of Covid-19 first detected in the UK.

Premier Daniel Andrews of Victoria state said the lockdown was necessary to halt an outbreak of the "hyper-infectious" strain of the virus, which leaked from a quarantine hotel at the city airport.

Mr Andrews said the Australian Open tennis tournament venue in Melbourne would be considered a "workplace" that can continue to function with limited staff.

Under the restrictions, some five million people in Australia's second-biggest city will have to remain at home for five days from midnight except for a limited number of permitted essential activities.


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New Zealand plans to start Covid vaccinations next week

New Zealand's Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern has said the country's Covid-19 inoculation programme is likely to begin on 20 February.

The date was brought forward by the earlier receipt of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine than originally anticipated.

Pressure has been mounting on Ms Ardern to start vaccinations for the country's 5 million people to take advantage of its rare position of having virtually eliminated the virus domestically.

She told reporters: "Last year we indicated the vaccine would arrive in quarter two, and earlier this year we updated that to quarter one.

"It's pleasing to be receiving doses this early in quarter one."

Both New Zealand and Australia have formally approved the vaccine jointly developed by US pharmaceutical company Pfizer and Germany's BioNTech.

Australia said it expects to begin inoculations by the end of this month, without giving a specific date.

However, Ms Ardern said the vaccination programmes would have no immediate impact on a stalled trans-Tasman travel "bubble".

Australia and New Zealand had hoped to allow bilateral travel by the end of March, but fresh coronavirus outbreaks in Australia have stalled those plans.

Ms Ardern said border restrictions could be eased if there was evidence that vaccines reduce transmission.

She said: "That will be a significant step-change if we see that evidence emerge and I'm sure that will make a difference to travel in the world."

"But at this stage, it won’t necessarily make a difference."

Ms Ardern said New Zealand's approximate 12,000 border workers would be the first to be vaccinated, followed by their household contacts.

Healthcare workers and high-risk people like the elderly would be next, before vaccinations for the wider population start in the second half of the year.

She said: "We have pre-purchased enough vaccines to cover all New Zealanders and to do so for free, and the Pacific as well."

New Zealand's medicines regulator is also in talks with AstraZeneca, Novavax and Janssen Biotech regarding approval for their Covid-19 vaccines.

Coronavirus cases in eastern Europe surpass 10 million - Reuters tally

The number of Covid-19 cases in eastern Europe surpassed 10 million toay, according to Reuters tally, as countries across the region aim to increase vaccine procurements from multiple suppliers to accelerate inoculation programmes.

Countries in eastern Europe have reported more than 10.02 million cases and 214,691 deaths since the pandemic started.

However, daily average new cases in the region have declined by about 31% in past 30 days as compared with the previous 30 days, according to a Reuters analysis.

Russia has the most cases in the region and became the first European country to surpass 4 million on Monday. The country has also reported the most deaths in Eastern Europe at about 79,194,according to a Reuters tally.

In Eastern Europe, seven nations including Russia, Poland, Czech Republic, Romania, Hungary, Slovakia and Bulgaria have administered about 4.5 million COVID-19 vaccine doses, according to the data from their respective health ministries.

Russia has administered at least a million doses of Covid-19 vaccines so far. Assuming every person needs two doses, that's enough to have vaccinated about 0.3% of the country's population, according to a Reuters analysis.

In a pandemic that has killed more than 750,000 people in Europe alone, the delay in shipments announced by vaccine makers AstraZeneca PLC and Pfizer Inc has put in jeopardy the European Union's summer target of vaccinating 70%of adults.

To cope with the shortage in vaccine supplies, many countries in eastern Europe have started looking for other vaccine providers from countries like China and Russia.

Hungary will start vaccinating people suffering no chronic diseases with Russia's Sputnik V vaccine soon, becoming the first EU member country to use it, while Czech Prime Minister Andrej Babis said on Wednesday that the country would wait for European Medicines Agency's (EMA) approval of the Russian vaccine.

Ukraine, which has registered more than 1.2 million coronavirus cases and 24,058 deaths, has already agreed to buy some vaccines from China and expects to get at least 8 million doses under the global COVAX programme for poorer countries.

The country has also secured 12 million Covid vaccines from the Serum Institute of India developed by AstraZeneca and Novavax.