Australia: Melbourne heads back into coronavirus lockdown

Country's second-largest city to be locked down again from midnight on Wednesday following surge in cases.

    Australia: Melbourne heads back into coronavirus lockdown
    From midnight on Wednesday, Melbourne residents will be required to stay home unless travelling to work, studies or shopping for food [File: Reuters]

    Nearly five million Melbourne residents will be put under another lockdown after coronavirus cases surged in Australia's second-largest city.

    From midnight on Wednesday, residents will be confined to their homes for six weeks - unless undertaking essential business such as travelling to work, studying, shopping for food or attending medical appointments - as officials scrambled to contain a coronavirus outbreak.

    The decision was announced on Tuesday, hours before the busy border between Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, and New South Wales is scheduled to close for the first time in a century.

    Restaurants, cafes and bars will be able to provide takeaway service only, gyms and hair salons closed, household gatherings limited to two people and the current school holiday extended.

    Victoria state's Premier Daniel Andrews said the restrictions were necessary.

    "I know a lot of people aren't scared because this feels like something happening to other people in other parts of the world," he said in a statement. "But you should be scared of this ... I'm scared ... we all should be." 

    Victoria was responsible for 191 of the 199 new cases reported nationally on Tuesday, the biggest one-day rise since early April. The spike has worried officials, even though the national total of almost 8,800 cases and 106 deaths is far below many other countries.

    "Yesterday, we reached a grim new milestone, the most cases in a single day. Today, we surpassed it," Andrews said.

    "It's clear we are on the cusp of our second wave - and we cannot let this virus cut through our communities."

    Strict measures

    Hundreds of police officers and army troops were being deployed to enforce the closure of Victoria's border with New South Wales from midnight on Tuesday.

    The state line is highly porous, stretching hundreds of kilometres (miles). It is heavily used daily by commuters, schoolchildren and road freight.

    People caught crossing the border without permission via any of the 55 roads or several river and wilderness crossings will face penalties including a fine of 11,000 Australian dollars ($7,700) and six months' imprisonment.

    A second region in Victoria, where recent COVID-19 cases have been detected and which is home to 44,000 people, will face lockdown restrictions similar to Melbourne.

    Outside of the border towns, Victoria residents will be able to apply for permits, but will need to prove a special need for their travel. Freight transporters will be free to cross the border without a permit, but will be subjected to random stops.   

    Health officials last week effectively shut off about 300,000 Melbourne residents from the rest of the city until the end of July, but that has now been extended beyond those neighbourhoods. A shutdown was also imposed in March. 

    "We are in many respects in a more precarious, challenging and potentially tragic position now than we were some months ago," Andrews said.

    Melbourne: Thousands in public housing towers asked to lock down

    SOURCE: Al Jazeera and news agencies