Authorities in Melbourne will relax a COVID-19 lockdown as planned on Thursday night, saying people’s adherence to the strict rules had “changed the course” of a coronavirus outbreak in Australia’s second-largest city.
Melbourne’s five million residents have had to remain at home for all but the most essential reasons over the past two weeks after a cluster of cases emerged that were linked to the Delta variant of the coronavirus, which is thought to be more transmissible.
The relaxation will take effect from 11.59pm local time (13:59 GMT) on Thursday, although some restrictions on travel and gatherings will remain in place for a further week.
“This is a good day. Everyone should be absolutely proud of what we have all achieved together,” Victoria state acting Premier James Merlino told reporters in Melbourne on Wednesday.
“But we know this isn’t over yet and until we have widespread vaccination across Victoria and the country, the virus will still be with us.”
Even when the rules are eased, people will have to remain within 25 kilometres (15 miles) of their homes, officials said.
There will also be a total ban on house gatherings and masks will be mandatory indoors and while schools, cafes and beauty salons can reopen, gyms and nightclubs will have to remain closed for at least another week.
Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer, said there could not be a “snap back” to no restrictions as the situation remains “reasonably volatile”.
“We have to move by increments, safely, but with the minimum restrictions that we know will continue to control this,” he said.
The new cluster of cases emerged last month with more than 80 people testing positive for either the Kappa or Delta strains of the virus which both originated in India.
On Wednesday, Victoria reported just one new locally acquired COVID-19 case, the lowest in more than two weeks.
Daily cases have remained in single digits on most days of the lockdown.
Australia has effectively reined in COVID-19, and is one of the few countries in the world where transmission has not become endemic.
Victoria has endured four lockdowns since the pandemic begun, the longest more than 100 days late in last year and more than 800 people have died in the state, 90 percent of the national toll.
Outbreaks in Taiwan and Japan have underscored how initial success in containing the virus can quickly evaporate without widespread vaccination.
Australia had stepped up its programme in recent week and had administered about 5.2 million jabs as of Monday. Only a small fraction of people are fully vaccinated, however.