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Lockdown restrictions in Australia’s second largest city were eased slightly on Sunday after a steady decline in new coronavirus cases, but officials stopped putting an end to a controversial “stay-at-home” rule.
More than 100 days after the lockdown on Melbourne’s five million residents to tackle a runaway spike in COVID-19 cases, authorities said they are lifting a two-hour limit on the amount of time people can spend starting at midnight could spend outside their homes for permitted activities.
They also increased the distance of five to 25 kilometers that people could travel from home for a variety of activities, including exercise, shopping for essentials, socializing, and doing important jobs.
However, Daniel Andrews, the Prime Minister of the state of Victoria, which also includes Melbourne, opposed growing calls for an end to all borders so people can leave their homes and for more extensive reopening of restaurants and other retail outlets.
He said the stay at home rule could be lifted and other business restrictions eased on Nov. 1 if community transmission of the virus is kept under control.
“I don’t do what is popular, I do what is safe because we don’t want to be here again,” Andrews said when there is a new wave of infections.
The number of new daily coronavirus cases in Victoria has dropped to low single digits in the past few days, after climbing to several hundred in August.
The Victoria outbreak came after other parts of Australia successfully contained the epidemic and began reopening their economies, particularly in neighboring New South Wales, which includes Sydney.
Conservative politicians in other states and the federal government increasingly criticized Andrews’ center-left government for maintaining the strict lockdown in Victoria, saying it undermined national recovery efforts.
“Every day Victoria has restrictions … comes at a high cost,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said in a joint statement on Sunday with his treasurer and minister of health.
They urged Andrews to accelerate the reopening of businesses, particularly in the restaurant and hospitality sectors, which they said were losing 1,000 jobs every day.
But Andrews insisted that social distancing measures were needed to prevent another outbreak from continuing.
“I announced today what is for sure, but does not undermine the sacrifice, hard work, pain and amazing efforts of the Victorians,” he said.
The successes in Australia are in stark contrast to the situation in Europe, where authorities from Spain to the UK put tough new lockdown measures in place this week amid a continent-wide spike in infections.
Australia has recorded over 27,000 cases of the virus and 904 deaths out of a population of 25 million, with more than 800 deaths occurring in Victoria alone.
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© 2020 AFP
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