SYDNEY - One of the world's longest COVID-19 lockdowns is coming to an end in the Australian city of Melbourne. Beginning Tuesday, all shops, cafes and restaurants can re-open, and strict-stay-at home orders will be lifted. The lockdown was imposed in early July in response to a deadly second wave of infections.
Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, has for a second consecutive day recorded no new coronavirus infections or fatalities. A sustained fall in daily cases has allowed the authorities to end one of the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns in the city of Melbourne.
Starting on Tuesday, the retail and hospitality industries can reopen, although conditions still apply. Face coverings remain mandatory, and cafes and restaurants can serve a maximum of 20 people inside and 50 people outdoors.
Weddings can now proceed with up to 10 guests and funerals with 20 mourners. Strict stay-at-home orders imposed on Melbourne’s five million residents will end.
Victoria premier Daniel Andrews says now is the time to bring the lockdown to an end.
“We are able to say that now is the time to open up. This belongs to every single Victorian, every single Victorian who has followed the rules, stayed the course, worked with me and my team to bring this second wave to an end. But it is not over. This virus is not going away. It is going to continue to be a feature of our lives every day until a vaccine turns up. These are big steps,” Andrews said.
Victoria state has been at the center of Australia’s COVID-19 crisis. It has had the majority of infections and almost 90 per cent of the nation’s virus fatalities.
The lockdown has not been universally popular. Two people have been charged over an anti-lockdown protest in Melbourne last week, including a woman who allegedly kicked a police horse.
The state government has been accused of being too cautious while jobs were lost and there are concerns that the mental health consequences will be dire.
Victoria’s conservative opposition leader is Michael O’Brien.
“There will be scars on the psyche of this state that will not heal. There are many, many people whose lives have changed permanently because of what they have had to endure over the last few months,” O’Brien said.
More than 27,500 coronavirus cases have been diagnosed in Australia, and 905 people have died. The federal government has said there have been four critical parts to the nation’s response to the pandemic: the closure of its international borders to foreign travelers, widespread testing, reliable contact tracing and community respect for hygiene and physical distancing protocols.
Victoria’s state government has indicated it plans to ease other restrictions in early November that are likely to include reopening gyms and allowing residents to travel more than 25 kilometers from home.
As Melbourne’s lockdown comes to an end, there is immense relief and celebration among residents, or as local media have put it, there have been "cheers, tears and beers.”