Melbourne placed under nightly curfew as coronavirus cases spike
As virus cases surge in the capital, Victoria is declared a state of disaster
MELBOURNE: Australia's second-most populous state of Victoria declared a state of disaster yesterday and imposed a nightly curfew for the capital Melbourne as part of its harshest movement restrictions to date to contain a resurgent Covid-19.
Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, already under a reimposed six-week stay-home order, has struggled to rein in the disease.
Victoria yesterday reported 671 infections, one of its highest, and seven Covid-19 deaths. Most of the cases were in Melbourne.
High numbers of community transmissions and cases of unknown origins 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 each day, and then thousands of people in hospital and many more tragedies than we have seen. But it is not working fast enough," Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews told a televised briefing.
The state's chief health officer, Professor Brett Sutton, said an estimated 20,000 cases were averted during Stage 3 restrictions, but flattening the curve to hundreds of new cases a day was "intolerable".
"We need to see those numbers through the eyes of our healthcare workers and the kind of awful fear that they have about what it means for people (going) to hospital," he said.
A curfew from 8pm to 5am every day was scheduled to be implemented from yesterday evening in Melbourne, barring the nearly five million people in the city from leaving their houses except for work or to receive or give care.
The sweeping new restrictions limit the time Melbourne residents may spend on outdoor exercise and essential shopping.
All schools will move to remote learning from Wednesday.
Supermarkets will remain open and restaurants, already closed for dining in, will be able to continue with their takeaway 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 "regrettably necessary" to stop the spread of the pandemic.
The state of disaster gives Victoria police additional powers to ensure people are complying with public-health directions.
"We have no choice but to make these decisions and to push on," Mr Andrews said. "This is the only option we have."
Restrictions on movement and business operations elsewhere in the state will be less severe than in Melbourne.
In New South Wales, which reported 12 new cases yesterday, Premier Gladys Berejiklian said people were now being "strongly encouraged" to wear masks, particularly on public transport, in shops and at places of worship as the state attempts to avoid the fate of neighbouring Victoria.
"We are holding the line and doing OK but I cannot stress enough that the next few weeks will make or break us, in terms of the way we get through this pandemic," she said in Sydney.
Australia's total infections reached almost 18,000 yesterday, with 208 deaths in a population of 25 million. - REUTERS, AFP