Australia’s second-most populous state announced a six-week lockdown across metropolitan Melbourne as a coronavirus outbreak risks triggering a second wave of infections in the nation.
Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said from midnight Wednesday people must stay home except for work, essential services, medical treatment or school. The state recorded 191 new cases overnight, the biggest daily increase since the crisis began.
“These are unsustainably high numbers of new cases,” he told reporters. At such levels it is impossible to “suppress and contain this virus without taking significant steps.”
The lockdown dashes the hopes of Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who’d aimed for most social-distancing restrictions across the nation and border closures to be lifted by the end of July in a bid to revive the crippled economy. The Victoria outbreak risks deepening and prolonging the nation’s first recession in almost three decades, while wearying Australians who’d hoped the first wave of restrictions imposed in late March had crushed the infection curve.
The Australian dollar fell 0.2% to 69.57 US after the announcement, while the benchmark S&P/ASX 200 index hit a session low.
“The overall recovery of the Australian economy is expected to be significantly hindered by the second lockdown,” IBISWorld said in an emailed statement on Tuesday, pointing out that Victoria contributed almost 24% to the nation’s gross domestic product in fiscal 2019.
Victoria’s northern neighbor New South Wales will close their shared border from midnight, for the first time since the 1919 Spanish Flu pandemic.
The lockdown across metropolitan Melbourne is a dramatic escalation of the state’s response, after it recorded more than two weeks of double-digit daily increases in case numbers. In recent days, authorities have ordered residents in 12 of the city’s poorer and more multicultural suburbs to stay at home except for work and essential shopping. At the weekend, about 3,000 residents of public-housing tower blocks were barred from leaving their apartments.
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While Australia has been one of the standout performers globally in limiting the spread of the virus to less than 9,000 cases, Victoria’s flare-up shows just how hard it will be to eradicate without a vaccine.
“I know there will be enormous amounts of damage that will be done because of this,” Andrews told reporters. “But we can’t pretend it’s over. It is not over in so many parts of the world and it is not over in metropolitan Melbourne and to a certain extent right across Victoria.”