Australia’s second most populous state will soon begin easing a strict lockdown put in place to contain the nation’s worst coronavirus outbreak, although most measures will remain in place for at least two more weeks.
The lockdown is hurting the Australian economy, which is gripped by itsfirst recession in almost 30 years. Victoria contributes about one-quarter of Australia’s gross domestic product, but is isolated from the rest of the country after other states closed their borders against a spike in community transmission.
“If we open up too fast then we have a very high likelihood that we’re not really opening up at all, we’re just beginning a third wave,” Victoria’s Premier Daniel Andrews said at a media briefing. “We have to take steady and safe steps out of lockdown.” The first changes, which take effect from Sept. 14, include a lengthening of permitted outdoor exercise time to two hours, and an allowance for two people or a household to meet outside.
Across the state, people have been ordered to stay at home except for essential work, medical care, provisions, or exercise. The state capital Melbourne, home to five million residents, has been under even tighter restrictions since early August, with a nighttime curfew and large parts of its retail and manufacturing sectors shuttered.
A further easing of restrictions, including a phased re-opening of schools and childcare centers, is planned for Sept. 27. Opening up beyond that will depend on the state meeting targets for reducing the rate of new infections. The Melbourne curfew will be fully lifted on Oct. 26, as long as the daily average is lower than five new cases and fewer than five infections have been reported from unknown sources in the previous 14 days.
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Victoria reported 63 new cases in the past 24 hours, down from a daily peak of 687 on Aug. 4, the state’s health departmentreported Sunday via Twitter.
Australia’s business lobby has called on Andrews to move quicker to re-open businesses and get the state economy moving again.
“What we need is a plan to get businesses going again,” Jennifer Westacott, chief executive officer at the Business Council of Australia, said in an ABC TV interview on Sunday. “People with Covid-safe plans, where there is no transmission, why can’t they open?”
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday that most state and territory leaders haverecommitted to opening up the economy by December, although he failed to secure an immediate agreement to lift border restrictions that are hampering the recovery.
Australia’s first lockdown, which lasted roughly from March to May, was one of the most successful in the world, bringing down the number of cases to just a handful a day nationwide. But security failures at quarantine hotels for returning travelers and poor communication of critical information to migrant communities allowed the virus to roar back in Victoria.
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