Coronavirus: Lockdowns v easing

Australia's Victoria state eases lockdown restrictions as Covid-19 cases fall

Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne yesterday. After more than 100 days in a strict lockdown that allowed only for two hours of outdoor activity a day, the five million people living in Melbourne, Victoria's capital, will be able to spend as much time
Queen Victoria Market in Melbourne yesterday. After more than 100 days in a strict lockdown that allowed only for two hours of outdoor activity a day, the five million people living in Melbourne, Victoria's capital, will be able to spend as much time exercising outdoors as they wish. But other curbs remain. PHOTO: EPA-EFE

MELBOURNE • The Australian state of Victoria, the epicentre of the country's coronavirus outbreak, will see more freedom of movement as of today, after months-long restrictions, but retailers and restaurants must wait longer, making some of the owners unhappy.

After more than 100 days in a strict lockdown that allowed only for two hours of outdoor activity a day, the five million people living in Melbourne, Victoria's capital, will be able to spend as much time exercising outdoors as they wish.

But people must stay within 25km of their homes, Premier Daniel Andrews said. Public gatherings will remain tightly limited, and retailers and restaurants must operate only on takeaway or delivery orders, with the state government eyeing their reopening by Nov 1.

"I know and understand that not everything everybody wanted is in the announcement I have made today," Mr Andrews told a news conference yesterday. "I have announced today what is safe."

He added: "As other parts of the world are going into a deadly winter, with lockdowns and restrictions that are heartbreaking, (Victoria can now) build a Covid-normal 2021."

The state's response has demonstrated the effectiveness of tight controls, just as the US, UK and many other European countries weigh their policy response to a second wave.

However, the Australian Industry Group, an employer organisation representing thousands of businesses, said Victoria's road map to recovery was a "maze that has now been turned into a long and winding road".

The Business Council of Australia has also attacked the delay in the reopening of retail and hospitality. "There is no sound reason to continue the restrictions on business, especially with case numbers clearly on a downward trajectory," council CEO Jennifer Westacott said.

Victoria, Australia's second-most populous state, is home to a quarter of its 25 million people and accounts for 25 per cent of economic output, but because of the prolonged lockdown, it makes up now 40 per cent of Australia's effectively unemployed, according to government data.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed sympathy for the "frustrations" of businesses. Mr Andrews' Labor Party government in Victoria government is in opposition to Mr Morrison's Liberals.

Mr Morrison said in a joint statement with the treasurer and health minister that the low number of new cases in the state make a "strong case for the retail and hospitality sectors to reopen before the next review date in November".

"Every day Victoria remains under restrictions... comes at a heavy cost," the statement said.

Victoria recorded two new cases of Covid-19 yesterday, keeping infections below double digits for a fifth day, down from more than 700 cases a day in early August. With 816 deaths, Victoria accounts for more than 90 per cent of all lives lost to the coronavirus in Australia this year.

Australia has recorded just over 27,300 infections, according to health ministry data, a fraction of what has been seen in some other countries.

REUTERS, BLOOMBERG

 
A version of this article appeared in the print edition of The Straits Times on October 19, 2020, with the headline 'Aussie state Victoria eases lockdown restrictions as cases fall'. Print Edition | Subscribe