Covid in Australia: Melbourne to exit 112-day lockdown

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People pass Flinders Street Station in Melbourne during lockdownImage source, EPA
Image caption,
Melbourne has endured lockdown since July to combat its second wave

The Australian city of Melbourne will exit lockdown from Wednesday after recording no new Covid-19 cases for the first time since June.

Victoria state was the epicentre of Australia's second wave, accounting for more than 90% of its 905 deaths.

The state capital, Melbourne, went into lockdown 111 days ago - enforcing home confinement, travel restrictions and and closing stores and restaurants.

However on Monday, authorities said the city was ready to re-open.

"With zero cases and so much testing over the weekend... we are able to say that now is the time to open up," said Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews.

In July, Victoria saw cases surge to more than 700 per day but the severe stay-at-home rules and a curfew have brought the numbers down.

Mr Andrews praised the state's six million residents, saying: "Fundamentally, this belongs to 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."

As of 28 October, in Melbourne:

  • People can freely leave their homes
  • All retail stores, restaurants, cafes and bars will re-open, with group limits of 10 patrons indoors
  • Household visits will be allowed, but with conditions to be revealed on Tuesday
  • Outdoor gatherings of up to 10 people can take place
  • Weddings can have up 10 people, and funerals up 20.

As of 8 November, in Melbourne:

  • A 25km (15.5-mile) travel limit will be removed, allowing Melburnians to travel elsewhere in Victoria
  • Gyms and fitness studios to re-open
  • Larger patron limits for restaurants and bars

Mr Andrews said the state was well placed for a "Covid-normal Christmas", but urged people to stay vigilant.

"We need to be proud today and optimistic and confident, but we also need to be Covid-19 safe," he said.

On Monday, state health officials reported no new infections for the first time since June, and no new deaths. Active cases stood at 91.

Victoria's daily cases. Entered lockdown 7 July.  .

Locals celebrated the milestone and re-opening announcement with messages of joy and relief on social media.

Suppression strategy

Australia has adopted an approach of using lockdowns alongside proactive testing and tracing to contain the virus.

A nation of 25 million people, it has recorded about 27,500 infections - far fewer than many nations.

The state government put Melbourne into its second lockdown in early July after cases exceeded 100 cases per day. Infections peaked about a month later, before beginning to fall.

As the virus spread outside the city, stay-at-home restrictions were also imposed on the rest of the state.

But Melburnians endured the toughest measures including a night-time curfew, a one-hour limit on outdoor exercise, and a ban on travelling more than 5km (3.1 miles) from their home.

The heavily policed lockdown - one of the toughest in the world - had divided opinion among the city's residents and prompted small protests.

In recent weeks, many business owners and others had called for the state to re-open, but others had supported the premier's cautious approach.

More on Melbourne's lockdown:

Media caption,

Coping with Melbourne lockdown: 'I cycled every street in my 5km radius'

The state government has faced scrutiny over how the virus was able to gain hold across the city, after spreading from hotels where returning travellers were under quarantine.

A judicial inquiry into the matter has heard there were weaknesses in contact-tracing at the start of the second wave.

The rest of Australia has seen very few virus cases in recent months.

Sydney has reported case numbers around Melbourne's level for the past fortnight, but health officials have so far curtailed the outbreaks.

Australia began allowing travellers from New Zealand on 2 October, with the first travellers allowed into New South Wales and the Northern Territory.