Australia: Melbourne to bring an end to world’s longest lockdowns

When Melbourne’s lockdown ends this week, it will have been under six lockdowns totalling 262 days since March 2020.

People cross a street in Melbourne on October 11, 2021, during a lockdown against COVID-19 [William West/ AFP]

The Australian city of Melbourne, which has spent more time under COVID-19 lockdowns than any other city in the world, is set to lift its stay-at-home orders this week.

Daniel Andrews, the premier of Victoria state of which Melbourne is the capital, announced the easing of curbs on Sunday.

The move comes after officials projected that the state’s double-vaccination rate will reach 70 percent this week.

“Today is a day when Victorians can be proud of what they have achieved,” said Andrews.

“As of 11.59pm on Thursday, there will be no lockdown, no restrictions on leaving home and no curfew,” he said.

By the time the curbs are lifted, the city of five million people will have been under six lockdowns totalling 262 days since March 2020.

Australian and other media say this is the longest in the world, exceeding a 234-day lockdown in Buenos Aires.

Australia, once a champion of a COVID-zero strategy of managing the pandemic, has been moving towards living with the virus through extensive vaccinations, as the Delta variant has proven too transmissible to suppress.

The new strategy makes lockdowns highly unlikely once 80 percent of the population is fully vaccinated.

“We’re not locking people down any more across the board,” said Andrews.

“We are instead locking people out who have not got vaccinated to protect themselves and protect everybody else.”

As of the weekend, about 68 percent of eligible Australians have been fully inoculated.

In Victoria, more than 65 percent of people over the age of 16 have had a second dose of a vaccine while 89 percent have had at least one dose.

Andrews said with the lifting of the stay at home order, people will be allowed to have 10 visitors at their homes each day.

Gatherings outside will be limited to 15 people.

Most outdoor venues will be open to up to 50 people, subject to density limits, while indoor venues, including cafes and restaurants will be able to open to 20 people, also subject to density limits.

There will be no travel limits within metropolitan Melbourne, the premier said, though residents of the city will not be able to travel outside the city without permission.

More easing, including the reopening of many retailers, will come once 80 percent of eligible Victorians are fully vaccinated – estimated by November 5 at the latest.

Australia’s health officials also said on Sunday that quarantine-free travel from New Zealand’s South Island, where there is no outbreak, will resume on Wednesday.

The government is also in discussions with Singapore about reopening travel between the two countries for the fully vaccinated.

Despite a rise in cases in recent months, Australia’s coronavirus numbers are low compared with many other developed countries, with just over 143,000 cases and 1,530 deaths.

Victoria on Sunday recorded 1,838 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Neighbouring New South Wales, which emerged last week from a 100-day lockdown, reported 301 cases and 10 deaths.

Eighty percent of the state’s people have been fully vaccinated.

Neighbouring New Zealand, which is also learning to live with COVID-19 by accelerating inoculations, reported 51 new cases on Sunday, 47 of them in the largest city Auckland, which has been in a lockdown since mid-August.

On Saturday, New Zealand vaccinated more than 2.5 percent of its people as part of a government-led mass vaccination drive.

Source: Al Jazeera and news agencies