Australian State Imposes 4-Week Lockdown in Hotspot Suburbs

Australia’s second-most populous state is imposing a four-week lockdown across parts of Melbourne, attempting to contain a spike in coronavirus infections that’s jeopardizing its economic recovery.

From late Wednesday night, people across 10 areas will face fines if they leave their homes other than for work or school, for care or care-giving, for daily exercise, or to buy food and other essentials, Victoria state Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters. Government grants will be awarded to Victorian businesses forced to close during the lockdown.

The state, which is facing isolation from much of the country, has requested that all flights to Melbourne be diverted to other cities for two weeks as a precaution. Victoria recorded 64 new cases Tuesday -- at least the 14th consecutive day of double-digit increases, though down from Monday’s total of 75.

“Because of the unacceptably high rates of community transmission and the unacceptably high rates of new cases,” Andrews told reporters, “it is incredibly important that we take some next steps to deal with this challenge right now.”

Australia’s dollar swung to a loss as the lockdown underscored the risks surrounding a new surge in infections. Australian shares pared gains, with the S&P/ASX 200 index closing 1.4% higher after climbing as much as 2.4% before the shutdown plans were announced.

‘Can’t Risk’

While Australia has been one of the standout performers globally in limiting the spread of the virus to less than 8,000 cases, Victoria’s new flare-up -- mainly amid Melbourne’s poorer and more multicultural suburbs -- shows just how hard it will be to eradicate without a vaccine.

The resurgence in Victoria is in stark contrast to the nation’s other seven states and territories, some of which have gone for weeks without recording community transmissions and are easing social-distancing restrictions.

Two states -- Queensland and South Australia -- announced Tuesday that they would delay their planned reopening of borders to Victoria. That will concern Prime Minister Scott Morrison, who has announced a three-step plan to remove most social-distancing and lockdown restrictions by the end of July in a bid to bolster the crippled economy.

Earlier: Australia’s Virus Hot-Spot State Focuses on Family Outbreaks

“We just can’t risk removing border restrictions for people coming from areas of Victoria right now,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk said. While her state will reopen its borders to other states on July 10, people who have been to Victoria will be barred unless they undertake 14 days of hotel quarantine at their own expense.

Western Australia has delayed its announcement to reopen and remains shut to all interstate visitors, while Tasmania has penciled in July 24 but may reverse that depending on the situation in Victoria.

Of Victoria’s 321 active cases, 281 have been acquired through unknown transmission. To combat the surge, the Victorian government is blitzing the 10 Melbourne suburbs -- comprising about 7% of the city’s population -- with a team of 800 testers in a fleet of vans. Residents of these suburbs will receive free testing, with or without symptoms.

“I think everyone in the country will be watching what is happening in Victoria,” Australia’s Deputy Chief Medical Officer Michael Kidd told reporters in Canberra, adding that Australian health authorities always expected surges in infections and the medical system was prepared to cope. “We are living in a world with Covid-19.”

©2020 Bloomberg L.P.

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