Melbourne prepares to exit world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown
Band Renju José
SYDNEY, October 21 (Reuters) – Millions of people in Melbourne prepare to emerge from the world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown later Thursday even as cases soar near record highs, with pubs, restaurants and cafes scurrying to restock before restocking. open their doors.
Since early August, residents of Australia’s second-largest city have been in detention – their sixth during the pandemic – to quell an outbreak fueled by the highly infectious Delta strain.
Authorities had promised to lift blockages once double-dose vaccinations for people over the age of 16 surpassed 70% in Victoria state, of which Melbourne is the capital.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on Thursday that the state has met that target, with more restrictions set to ease as inoculations hit 80% and 90%.
“The longest road has been done in Victoria and that long road is really starting to open up tonight,” Morrison told Seven News Thursday.
As of 11:59 p.m. (13:59 GMT) Thursday, pubs and cafes can have 20 fully vaccinated clients indoors and 50 outdoors, while hairdressers may allow entry for up to five clients. Masks will always be compulsory inside and outside.
By then, the city of five million people would have spent a total of 262 days, or nearly nine months, under stay-at-home orders since March 2020 – the longest in the world, surpassing a 234-day lockdown in Buenos Aires, according to Australian media.
Pubs started taking more beer ahead of reopening with Carlton & United Breweries, owned by Japanese Asahi Group Holdings 2502.T, claiming he had moved an additional 50,000 barrels to locations across the city on Thursday.
As businesses prepare to welcome customers, daily infections rose to 2,232 in Victoria on Thursday, the second highest daily number of any Australian jurisdiction during the pandemic.
After largely eradicating infections in 2020, Australia has abandoned its COVID-zero approach and aims to live with the virus amid higher vaccinations after being rocked by a third wave of infections in the southeast of the country since mid-June.
Despite the Delta wave, Australia recorded only about 152,000 cases and 1,590 deaths, far fewer than many comparable countries.
Cases in New South Wales, home to Sydney, rose for the third day in a row Thursday to 372 from 283 a day earlier.
Virus-free state of Queensland is on high alert after reporting its first new local case in two weeks – an unvaccinated Uber driver who spent 10 days in the community while potentially contagious.
Sydney and Canberra, the nation’s capital, emerged from lockdowns last week after exceeding their vaccination targets. Other states are COVID-free or have very few cases.
As restrictions begin to ease, Qantas Airways QAN.AX said it would increase daily flights between Sydney and Melbourne, one of the busiest domestic routes in the world before the pandemic, to around 15 from the first week of November from just one now.
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(Reporting by Renju Jose; Editing by Richard Chang and Lincoln Feast.)
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