Melbourne to ease world’s longest COVID-19 lockdowns as vaccinations rise

People in the city center wear face masks during a lockdown to help curb the spread of coronavirus disease (COVID-19) in Sydney, Australia, Sept. 28, 2021. REUTERS / Loren Elliott

MELBOURNE, Oct. 17 (Reuters) – Melbourne, which has spent more time under COVID-19 lockdowns than any other city in the world, will be putting its stay-at-home orders off this week, officials said on Sunday.

By Friday, when some curbs are lifted, the Australian city of 5 million will be closed six times for a total of 262 days, or almost nine months, since March 2020.

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

As coronavirus cases continue to surge in the state of Victoria, whose capital is Melbourne, the state’s double vaccination rate is expected to hit 70% this week, allowing restrictions to be relaxed.

“Today is a great day,” said Victoria Prime Minister Daniel Andrews when announcing the lockdown. “Today is a day that Victorians can be proud of what they have accomplished.”

When restaurants and some shops reopen, their capacities will be severely limited. Further easing, including reopening many retailers, will come once 80% of eligible Victorians are fully vaccinated – estimated no later than November 5th.

On Sunday, Victoria recorded 1,838 new coronavirus cases and seven deaths. Neighboring New South Wales, which emerged from a 100-day lockdown last week, reported 301 cases and 10 deaths. Eighty percent of the state’s population is fully vaccinated.

Australia, once a proponent of a COVID-zero strategy to deal with the pandemic, has moved to live with the virus through extensive vaccinations as the Delta variant has been shown to be too communicable to suppress.

The new strategy makes lockdowns very unlikely once 80% of the population is fully vaccinated. By the weekend, around 68% of eligible Australians had been fully vaccinated.

Australia’s health officials said Sunday that quarantine-free travel from New Zealand’s South Island, which has no outbreak, will resume on Wednesday. The government is also in talks with Singapore to reopen travel between the two countries for those who are fully vaccinated.

Despite the surge in cases in recent months, coronavirus numbers in Australia are low compared to many other developed countries, with just over 143,000 cases and 1,530 deaths.

Neighboring New Zealand, which is also learning to live with COVID-19 through accelerated vaccination, reported 51 new cases on Sunday, 47 of them in the largest city of Auckland, which has been on lockdown since mid-August.

On Saturday, New Zealand vaccinated more than 2.5% of its population as part of a government-led mass vaccination campaign.

Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Adaptation by William Mallard

Our Standards: The Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.

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