Covid-19 restrictions ease in Melbourne after months of lockdown

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The Australian state of Victoria, the epicenter of the country’s outbreak of coronavirus, will see more freedom of movement from Monday after months of restrictions, but retailers and restaurants will have to wait longer, making some owners unhappy.

After more than 100 days in a rigorous lockdown that allowed only two hours of outdoor activity a day, the 5 million people living in Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, will be able to spend as much time exercising outdoors as they wishes.

However, people need to stay within 25 kilometers (15 miles) of their homes, said Prime Minister Daniel Andrews. Public gatherings will remain closely restricted, and retailers and restaurants may only operate on take-away or delivery orders where the state government keeps an eye on their reopening before November 1st.

“I know and understand that not everything everyone wants is in the message I made today,” Andrews said at a news conference. “I have announced today what is safe.”

The head of Melbourne’s Chapel Street Precinct Association, a local marketing agency representing about 2,200 commercial units, said there was a “cloud of anger” from their businesses on Sunday.

“The fact that retail and hospitality are still waiting until November is potentially an unfair joke,” Chrissie Maus, general manager of Chapel Street Precinct, said in a statement.

Victoria, Australia’s second most populous state, is home to a quarter of its 25 million people and accounts for 25% of economic output, but due to the prolonged shutdown it now accounts for 40% of Australia’s effectively unemployed, according to government data.

Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed sympathy for the companies’ “frustrations”. The Andrews’ Labor Party government in Victoria is in opposition to Morrison’s Liberals.

Morrison said in a statement with the treasurer and health minister that the low number of new cases makes “a strong case for the retail and hotel industry to reopen before the next review date in November”.

“Every day, Victoria remains under restrictions … has huge costs,” the statement said.

On Sunday, Victoria registered two new cases of Covid-19, in which infections were kept below double digits for a fifth day, down from more than 700 cases a day in early August.

With 816 deaths, Victoria accounts for more than 90% of all lives lost to Covid-19 in Australia this year. Australia has registered just over 27,300 infections, according to data from the Ministry of Health, a fraction of what has been seen in some other countries.

(REUTERS)