Melbourne to exit world's longest Covid-19 lockdown as vaccinations rise

Melbourne will have been under six lockdowns totalling 262 days since March 2020, when some curbs are lifted by Oct 22, 2021. PHOTO: AFP

MELBOURNE (BLOOMBERG, REUTERS) - The Australian city of Melbourne will exit its sixth pandemic lockdown late on Thursday (Oct 21) after a jump in vaccinations.

Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital, will ease curbs from 11.59pm that day with 70 per cent of the eligible adult population on the cusp of being fully vaccinated, state Premier Daniel Andrews said in a televised briefing on Sunday.

"There will be no restrictions on leaving your home, there will be no curfew," Mr Andrews said.

​"Today is a great day. Today is a day when Victorians can be proud of what they have achieved," he said.

Sydney, Australia's most populous city, exited more than three months of lockdown on Oct 11 as the nation moved towards living with Covid-19 after ramping up inoculations and securing more drug supplies to treat infections.

The freedoms being restored in Victoria include allowing up to 10 people to visit homes daily in regional and metropolitan Melbourne, while a 15km travel radius will also be scrapped in the latter zone. Greater Melbourne has a population of about 5 million.

Venues such as restaurants and cafes will be able to reopen subject to occupancy, density and vaccination criteria. A staggered return to school will be brought forward to begin Oct 22.

People will still have to wear masks both indoors and outdoors. But the rules for wearing masks outdoors will be adjusted once 80 per cent of eligible Victorians are fully vaccinated - estimated to be by Nov 5 at the latest. More easing, including the reopening of many retailers, will also come then.

Meanwhile, the national government said it is in talks over a quarantine-free travel bubble with Singapore for fully vaccinated visitors. It has also secured access to additional Covid-19 treatments from Roche Holding and Pfizer.

Quarantine-free travel from New Zealand's South Island, where there is no outbreak, will resume on Wednesday.

Melbourne has spent more time under Covid-19 lockdowns than any other city in the world. The Australian city of five million people has been under six lockdowns totalling 262 days, or nearly nine months, since March last year.

Australian and other media say this is the longest in the world, exceeding a 234-day lockdown in Buenos Aires.

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On Sunday, Victoria recorded 1,838 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths.

Neighbouring New South Wales, which emerged last week from a 100-day lockdown, reported 301 cases and 10 deaths. Eighty per cent of the state's people have been fully vaccinated.

Australia, once a champion of a Covid-zero strategy of managing the pandemic, has been moving towards living with the virus through extensive vaccinations, as the Delta variant has proven too transmissible to suppress.

The new strategy makes lockdowns highly unlikely once 80 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated. As at the weekend, around 68 per cent of eligible Australians have been fully inoculated.

Despite the rise in cases in recent months, Australia's coronavirus numbers are low compared with many other developed countries, with just more than 143,000 cases and 1,530 deaths.

Neighbouring New Zealand, which is also learning to live with Covid-19 by accelerating inoculations, reported 51 new cases on Sunday, 47 of them in the largest city Auckland, which has been in a lockdown since mid-August.

On Saturday, New Zealand vaccinated more than 2.5 per cent of its people as part of a government-led mass vaccination drive.

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