Premier Daniel Andrews hopes Victoria’s fifth lockdown is “short” and “sharp” but cannot guarantee it will only last five days.
More than six million Victorians are again living under stay-at-home orders from Friday to curb a growing outbreak of the COVID-19 Delta variant.
The rules applied during last month’s lockdown have been reimposed, including a 5km travel limit for exercise and shopping and compulsory mask-wearing indoors and outdoors.
Mr Andrews said the state’s contact tracers hadn’t been able to keep up with the spread of the highly infectious Delta variant.
“We’ve got no choice. We don’t want this getting away from us and being locked down for months,” he said on Thursday.
Despite describing it as a “short, sharp” lockdown, the premier could not rule out extending stay at home orders beyond 11.59pm on Tuesday.
“It may be longer because it depends on what every Victorian does,” Mr Andrews said, adding some parts of regional Victoria could be freed earlier if it is deemed safe.
Several hundred people gathered outside Flinders Street Station on Thursday night to protest the latest lockdown, listening to speeches and chanting “sack Dan Andrews”.
A flare was lit as they marched to parliament. Police confirmed no arrests were made.
It came after Victoria recorded two additional locally acquired COVID-19 cases on Thursday afternoon, taking the number of community cases linked to the outbreak, which originated in NSW in mid-June, to 18.
Most of the cases are connected to NSW removalists who breached their worker permit conditions and spread the virus during a drop-off at the Ariele Apartments in Maribyrnong late last week.
A Victoria Police spokesman told AAP it was helping to establish the three-person crew’s movements as part of a health department investigation.
Mr Andrews would not be drawn on whether Victoria’s lockdown could have been avoided if Sydney had locked down sooner.
“I can’t control what happens and doesn’t happen in NSW,” he said.
“These cases started in NSW, but I’m determined they will end here.”
The final straw for authorities was three cases of suspected “stranger-to-stranger transmission” at an AFL match between Carlton and Geelong at the MCG on Saturday.
A positive case also attended the international rugby clash between the Wallabies and France at AAMI Park on Tuesday night, with stadium management working with health officials to identify close contacts.
There are more than 110 exposure sites dotted across Melbourne and regional Victoria, including the MCG and several stores at Chadstone shopping centre.
Meanwhile, the state government is expected to announce a lockdown business support package as early as Friday.
The federal government late on Thursday cleared the way for income support for workers in Victoria for the five-day lockdown under a COVID-19 Disaster Payment scheme.
The payments can be claimed by people who work or live in Greater Melbourne, Moorabool Shire, City of Greater Geelong, Borough of Queenscliffe and Surf Coast Shire.
The payments included $600 a week for people who have lost 20 hours or more of work during the lockdown and $375 a week for those who have lost between eight and up to 20 hours.
No liquid assets test will be applied to the payments.