Melbourne, Australia’s second-largest city already under a re-imposed six-week stay-at-home order, has struggled to bring the disease under control, with a record number of infections from the novel coronavirus reported last week.
Victoria reported 671 infections, one of its highest, and seven deaths from COVID-19 on Sunday. A large number of community transmissions and cases of unknown origin have forced the new restrictions, which will be in place for six weeks, officials said.
“The current rules have avoided thousands and thousands of cases every day, then thousands of people in hospital and many more tragedies than we have seen. But it doesn’t work fast enough, ”Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told a televised briefing.
A daily 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. curfew will be in place from Sunday evening in Melbourne, preventing the city’s nearly five million people from leaving their homes except to work or to receive or care for.
The sweeping new restrictions limit the time Melbourne residents can spend outdoor exercise and essential shopping. All schools will switch to distance learning from Wednesday.
Supermarkets will remain open and restaurants, already closed for dinners, will be able to continue their take-out and delivery services.
The federal government backed Victoria’s measures, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying in a post on his Facebook page that they were “sadly necessary” to stop the spread of the pandemic.
“We’re all in the same boat and we’ll get there,” Morrison said.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt told a televised briefing that the federal government was supporting the measures with a “heavy” heart.
“We are doing this because they will help save and protect lives,” Hunt said.
Support from the federal government, led by a coalition led by the Liberal Party, for the actions taken by the Labor Party government in Victoria shows national unity across the political spectrum in a country with a loose federal system.
Australia has done much better than many other countries in preventing the coronavirus from spreading, but at a high economic cost. It has recorded around 18,000 cases of the coronavirus and just over 200 deaths from COVID-19, but the recent outbreak in Victoria has proven difficult to contain.
The state of disaster gives Victoria Police additional powers to ensure people are complying with public health guidelines.
“We have no choice but to make these decisions and move on,” Andrews said. “It’s the only option we have.”
Restrictions on travel and business operations elsewhere in the state will be less severe than in Melbourne. Andrews said new restrictions for businesses in Victoria would be announced on Monday.
Neighboring New South Wales, the most populous state, reported 12 infections on Sunday, with the state now ‘strongly’ recommending the use of face masks in public.
Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by William Mallard and Christopher Cushing
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