Australia's Covid-19 epicentre extends hard lockdown, gradual easing through November

People wearing face masks walk through a park in Melbourne as the city operates under lockdown in response to an outbreak of Covid-19 in Australia, on September 2 2020.
People wearing face masks walk through a park in Melbourne as the city operates under lockdown in response to an outbreak of Covid-19 in Australia, on September 2 2020.
Image: AAP Image/James Ross via REUTERS

Australia's coronavirus hotspot state of Victoria on Sunday extended a hard lockdown in its capital Melbourne by two weeks to the end of September as infection rates have declined more slowly than hoped.

State Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday extended the hard lockdown, in place since August 2, to September 28 with a slight relaxation, and mapped out a gradual easing of restrictions over the following two months.

Melbourne's stage 4 restrictions, which had been due to end on September 13, shut most of the economy, limited people's movements to a 5km zone around their homes for one hour a day and imposed a night time curfew.

"We cannot open up at this time. If we were to we would lose control very quickly," Andrews said at a televised media conference.

Victoria, Australia's second most populous state, has been the epicentre of a second wave of the novel coronavirus, now accounting for about 75% of the country's 26,282 cases and 90% of its 753 deaths.

The state on Sunday reported 63 new Covid-19 infections and five deaths, down from a peak of 725 new cases on August 5.

Andrews said modelling showed cases would continue to average around 60 a day by next weekend, and if the state opened up too quickly it would be on track for a third wave by mid-November.

By contrast, Australia's most populous state, New South Wales, has had no more than 13 cases a day since early August.

Andrews has resisted pressure to lift restrictions, which the federal government has blamed for dragging Australia deeper into its first recession in nearly 30 years, while other states have largely reopened their economies.

"You've got to defeat the second wave and do it properly. Otherwise you just begin a third wave. A third wave will mean we can't do the economic repair that people desperately want us to do," he said.

Starting from 11:59pm on September 13, some stage 4 restrictions will begin easing, with the nightly curfew starting at 9pm instead of 8pm, people will be allowed outdoors for up to two hours instead of one, and those living alone will be allowed to have a visitor.

After September 28, if average daily infection rates have dropped to between 30 and 50 for 14 days, child care, construction sites, manufacturing plants, and warehouses, will go back to normal, allowing 101,000 workers to return to their jobs.

Schools will also partially reopen and outdoor gatherings of up to five people would be allowed.

After October 26, if daily infection rates have dropped below five over the previous two weeks, cafes and restaurants could reopen, mostly for outdoor service, and shops and hairdressers would reopen.

At the same time, the curfew would be lifted, there would be no limits on leaving home, outdoor gatherings could increase to 10, homes would be able to have five visitors, and some adult non-contact sports could resume.

After November 23, cafes, bars and restaurants could have more people indoors, schools could reopen more fully, museums and other entertainment venues could reopen, public gatherings of up to 50 people would be allowed, and up to 20 visitors to homes.

"I know people are disappointed. I'm disappointed too that we cannot open up faster. But the key point here is to open and stay open," Andrews said.

Restrictions in regional Victoria will ease from September 13.

- Reuters

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