SYDNEY (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - Australia's government has warned of mounting economic pain as Victoria state announced only a gradual easing of its coronavirus lockdown that will see retail, hospitality, tourism and entertainment under tight controls across Melbourne until at least the end of October.
The 5 million residents of the state capital will face restrictions on when they can leave home until Oct 26, or until there are fewer than five new Covid-19 cases a day.
Office staff will be told to work from home until at least Nov 23, under the roadmap announced by state Premier Daniel Andrews.
"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," Mr Andrews told reporters on Sunday. "We have to take steady and safe steps out of lockdown."
Victoria on Monday (Sept 7) reported nine deaths from the new coronavirus in the last 24 hours and 41 cases, compared with five deaths and 63 cases a day earlier.
Victoria is at the epicentre of a renewed outbreak in Australia that's hurting the nation's attempts to drag the economy out of its first recession in almost 30 years. The second-most populous state 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.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who is pushing for states to lift border restrictions to help kick-start an economic revival, said the move to extend lockdown measures was "hard and crushing news," for the people of Victoria.
"The proposed roadmap will come at a further economic cost," Mr Morrison said in a media statement.
"The continued restrictions will have further impact on the Victorian and national economy, in further job losses and loss of livelihoods, as well as impacting on mental health."
The Business Council of Australia called on Mr Andrews to move quicker to re-open businesses and get the state economy moving again.
The Australian Industry Group called the roadmap "a document of despair for industry and their employees." "There will be catastrophic economic, health and social damage caused by the continued lockdown and prospect of more months of sharply diminished activity," Chief Executive Officer Innes Willox said.
Across the state, people have been ordered to stay at home except for essential work, medical care, provisions, or exercise since early August.
Melbourne has been under even tighter restrictions, with a nighttime curfew and large parts of its retail and manufacturing sectors shuttered.
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.
A further easing of restrictions, including a phased re-opening of schools and childcare centres, is planned for Sept 28. Opening up beyond that will depend on the state meeting targets for reducing the rate of new infections.
The Melbourne curfew and stay-at-home orders 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.
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 travellers and poor communication of critical information to migrant communities allowed the virus to roar back in Victoria.