Australia’s Most Populous States Start to Ease Virus Lockdowns
(Bloomberg) -- Australia’s two most populous states, responsible for 65% of the nation’s coronavirus cases, are easing lockdown restrictions as authorities seek to reboot the crippled economy.
New South Wales will allow households to have as many as five visitors, and permit outdoor gatherings of as many as 10 people from May 15. Cafes and restaurants, currently restricted to takeaways, will be able to serve as many as 10 people at a time. Neighboring Victoria won’t consider easing dining restrictions until next month, though will mirror the moves on household guests and outdoor gatherings from late Tuesday.
“We need to fire up our economy, we need to get people back into jobs, we need to see some semblance of normality come back,” NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said Sunday. Outdoor gyms and playgrounds will open, as well as outdoor pools with some restrictions. Weddings will be allowed to have 10 guests, while funerals could have 20 mourners indoors, or 30 outside.
But Berejiklian said people needed to remain vigilant, and a ban on regional travel would remain in force.
In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews on Monday said people should continue to work from home if they could, and said the state was close to making an announcement on a resumption of face-to-face teaching. He provided a glimmer of hope that currently shuttered professional sporting competitions including the Australian Football League could be restarted, saying a set of arrangements had been agreed for training.
People could enjoy activities such as hiking, fishing and playing golf, but not travel overnight, he said.
“The virus is still with us, it is in the Victorian community,” Andrews said. “There is a need for us to take a small first step and all be vigilant.”
Australia’s three-stage plan for reopening the economy is being followed by the eight state and territory governments at their own pace. Western Australia, for instance, is allowing indoor gatherings of as many as 20 people from May 18.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison is aiming for completion of the three steps by the end of July, putting the nation at the vanguard of developed economies emerging from the crisis. Australia has avoided the scale of sickness and death that’s ravaged countries including the U.K., U.S. and Italy.
New South Wales and Victoria, the engine rooms of the country’s economy, have been more hesitant to ease restrictions amid recent outbreaks in a Sydney aged-care home and a Melbourne meat plant. Australia has recorded 6,941 cases of the virus and 97 deaths.
The lockdown has taken a heavy economic toll: unemployment is poised to double by July to about 10% and the nation is veering toward its first recession in almost three decades. Morrison is seeking a balance of containing the virus and lifting restrictions that are costing the economy A$4 billion ($2.6 billion) a week.
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