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Shoppers strip Melbourne supermarket shelves as lockdown begins again

Millions in the Australian city prepare to return to six-week lockdown

MELBOURNE: Shoppers in Australia's second biggest city stripped supermarket shelves yesterday as millions in Melbourne prepared for a return to virus lockdown.

Five million residents have been ordered back into a six-week lockdown that started at midnightas soaring community transmission of the coronavirus brings more than 100 new cases daily.

A further 134 infections were detected in the past 24 hours - small in comparison to the tens of thousands in hard-hit countries like the US and Brazil but considered a major spike in Australia, which had otherwise been successful in containing Covid-19.

The country's largest supermarket chain, Woolworths, said it had reimposed buying limits on items including pasta, vegetables and sugar after shoppers rushed to stores across Victoria state.

Experts have warned that people everywhere will have to get used to the "new normal" of on-and-off restrictions as new clusters emerge and subside, while there are also concerns over the economic and health impacts the measures will bring.

Restaurants and cafes will be limited to serving takeaway food, while gyms, beauty salons and cinemas will be forced to close again.

Residents will be restricted to their homes except for work, exercise, medical care or to buy essentials - a return to social isolation that was only recently lifted.

State Premier Daniel Andrews yesterday acknowledged the costs to Victoria's 6.6 million residents, saying his job required him "to make not just the popular calls, but the really difficult, the hard calls".

Health authorities say they have linked many of the Melbourne cases to hotels where residents returning from overseas were being quarantined.

Local media reported security guards had breached infection control protocols - including allegedly having sex with guests being held in isolation - prompting the government to replace the private contractors with prison staff and launch an inquiry.

But there is also concern over the increased community transmission in Melbourne, with just 11 of yesterday's new cases linked to known outbreaks.

In a separate development, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said yesterday, Australia should slow down the return of its citizens from abroad.

Mr Morrison said he would take a proposal to a national cabinet of state and territory leaders on Friday, seeking to slow down the return of Australian citizens and permanent residents by reducing the number of repatriation flights.

The two groups have been the only arrivals allowed since Australia closed its international border in March.

Part of the reason is the lax rules experienced in Melbourne.

Australia has recorded almost 9,000 cases and 106 deaths. - AFP, REUTERS

WORLD