Melbourne virus curfew to be lifted after nearly two months

An overnight curfew in Australia’s second-biggest city will be lifted from Monday, almost two months after it was imposed across Melbourne to counter a surging coronavirus outbreak.

Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews said Melbourne residents would be free to leave their homes at any time for work, exercise, to buy essentials or provide care.

The relaxation comes after 16 new infections and two deaths were reported in Victoria on Sunday and the state’s active cases fell below 400 for the first time since June 30.

The Melbourne curfew was imposed on August 2 along with a raft of other restrictions as cases of coronavirus soared in the city of roughly five million.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton said it was “not a proportionate measure to have in place going forward” given the low case numbers.

People will still be confined to within five kilometres (about three miles) of their homes and fines for breaching other restrictions will be increased to almost Aus$5,000 (US$3,515) to deter parties.

“We don’t make this decision lightly but no-one has the right to put everything that Victorians have done at risk… and potentially spreading the virus,” Andrews told a press conference.

Melbourne, the capital of Victoria, became the epicentre of Australia’s second wave after security bungles led to the virus escaping from hotels used to quarantine travellers returning from overseas.

Andrews said several other restrictions will also be lifted, allowing workers in a number of industries to return and small religious services to resume.

Primary school students will be back in classrooms from mid-October and childcare centres will reopen immediately.

Visits to hospitals and aged care facilities can resume with strict conditions but visits to homes will remain banned and outdoor gatherings limited to five people from two households.

Andrews said the evidence was “irrefutable” that homes were “one of the most risky environments” for transmission of the virus.

“It is how people let their guard down, and there is a degree of informality — there is no distancing, there is not the cleaning at that kind of industrial level, that is when this virus gets away from you,” he said.

Australia has been relatively successful in curbing the spread of Covid-19, with just over 27,000 cases and 872 deaths in a population of 25 million.

Most regions are now reporting few or no new daily infections, allowing restrictions to be rolled back across much of the country. (AFP)

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