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Australia eases lock in its Coronavirus Epicenter Victoria



Daniel Andrews in Melbourne on 18 October.

Photographer: Darrian Traynor / Getty Images

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The state in the epicenter of Australia̵

7;s Covid-19 outbreak announced a easing of restrictions on Sunday, but left many businesses closed until next month to ensure further transmission of communities.

From midnight, the 5 million inhabitants of the Victoria capital Melbourne, who have been locked up for more than 100 days, will be allowed to travel as far as 25 kilometers (16 miles) from their homes and the two-hour deadline each day exercise will be scrapped, said Prime Minister Daniel Andrews.

The home order will be lifted completely from 1 November, and the retail and hotel industry will largely reopen. This time frame can be accelerated if case numbers continue to fall.

“These lockdowns have come with pain and injury and pain, but the strategy works,” Andrews told reporters. “As other parts of the world enter a deadly winter of heartbreaking shutdowns and constraints,” Victoria can now “build a Covid normal 2021,” he said.

The state’s response has shown the effectiveness of tight controls, just as the United States, Britain and many European countries are weighing their political response to another wave. New cases have dropped from a daily high of 687 on August 4 with infections slowing to a seep.

But Andrews has come under constant criticism for imposing the strict lockdown that has endangered people’s mental health and drawn on the national economy. Victoria accounts for about a quarter of gross domestic product, and the restrictions have deepened Australia’s first recession in almost 30 years.

“The second wave that led to the lockdown has taken extreme tolls on Victorians’ mental health and economic prospects,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg wrote in a statement. “Now is the time for the Victorian government to give Victorians back their freedom and allow businesses to reopen in a Covid-secure way.”

Australian Industry Group, an employers’ organization representing thousands of companies, said Victoria’s timetable for recovery was a “maze that has now been transformed into a long and winding road.”

Australia’s Business Council attacked the delay in reopening retail and hospitality. “There is no sound reason to continue the restrictions in the business, especially with case numbers clearly on a downward trajectory,” said CEO Jennifer Westacott.

The state reported two new cases of coronavirus on Sunday and no deaths, bringing the 14-day average to eight with 15 cases from an unknown source. Victoria has been focused on cutting the rolling average and the number of mystery cases to less than five.

Andrews noticed that daily affairs in his state and Britain were comparable back in August.

“Today, as Victoria registers two new cases, Britain hit 16,171,” he said. “And as we continue to ease our constraints, they will be forced to increase theirs.”

From midnight across Melbourne, tennis courts, golf courses and skate parks will reopen, hairdressers can resume their business, and as many as 10 people can take part in auctions outside housing – a major boost for the housing market. Up to 10 people from two households can gather outdoors.

From 1 November, the remaining shops and restaurants, cafés, pubs and services such as beauty salons will reopen.

In the Victoria region, where the number is significantly lower, many of the controls have already been eased and pubs and restaurants are allowed to have more customers from midnight.

Australia has been at the forefront of nations that have seen success in controlling the transmission of communities. Its first nationwide lockdown, which lasted roughly from March to May, was one of the most successful in the world, reducing the number of cases to just a handful a day. But security flaws at quarantine hotels for returning travelers and poor communication of critical information to immigrant communities allowed the virus to roar back into Victoria.

Much of the nation has ruined the transmission of society as states such as Queensland, Western Australia and Tasmania restrict access to people from virus hotspots. The international border remains closed to non-residents, except for a limited travel bubble with New Zealand, and those returning from abroad must undergo a 14-day quarantine at hotels or other government-run facilities.

(Updates with industry response in 8th, 9th paragraphs)


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