Melbourne prepares to exit world’s longest COVID-19 lockdown

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A woman wearing a protective mask walks along a deserted city bridge during the morning commute hours on the first day of a lockdown as Victoria state seeks to curb the spread of a disease outbreak in coronavirus (COVID-19) in Melbourne, Australia, July 16, 2021. REUTERS / Sandra Sanders // File photo

  • Victoria records second highest daily increase in cases
  • Qantas to increase Sydney-Melbourne flights from November
  • Double-dose vaccination rate exceeds 70% in Victoria

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 levels, with pubs, restaurants and cafes rushing to restock before opening 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 the reopening with Carlton & United Breweries, owned by Japan’s Asahi Group Holdings (2502.T), claiming it had moved an additional 50,000 kegs to locations in 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.

VACCINATION VOLUME

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.

The 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 infectious.

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.

With restrictions starting 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 a single now. Read more

Report by Renju José; Editing by Richard Chang and Lincoln Feast.

Our Standards: Thomson Reuters Trust Principles.


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