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Melbourne to force shops, bars to close

August 3, 2020

Residents of the eastern Australian city are now under strict lockdown due to a surge in coronavirus cases. Hundreds of thousands of people will not be able to work for several weeks.

Australien Melbourne
Image: Imago Images/D. Pockett

The premier of the eastern Australian state of Victoria, Daniel Andrews, said several businesses would be forced to temporarily close after he declared a state of disaster in the entire state.

Andrews said 429 new coronavirus cases and 13 deaths were recorded in Victoria on Monday. The state has seen a steadily increasing toll in both deaths and infections over the past six weeks and currently has 6,322 active cases. The overall death toll in the state is 136, more than half of the total number of deaths in the country.

Extended 'unprecedented steps'

"I never thought I'd find myself in a position where I'd have to ask people not to go to work," said Andrews in a Monday statement. "But if we're serious about driving this thing down – and we absolutely must be – we need to take unprecedented steps in limiting the movement of people, and therefore limiting the movement of this virus."

More than 250,000 more jobs will be hit by the new measures.

Under the newly imposed "stage four" restrictions, residents of the state capital Melbourne will be allowed to shop and exercise only within 5 kilometers (3 miles) of their homes. Only one person from each household will be allowed to shop at a time, and only once a day.

Andrews added that large industries would have to close as well, including major shops, hotels, bars, and construction projects. The restrictions would also mean meat production would have to slow down starting on Friday.

The Premier stated that all businesses in regional Victoria that would be forced to shut down during the lockdown would be eligible for a $5,000 AUD ($3,560, 3,030 euro) grant. Stores in the city of Melbourne and Mitchell Shire could apply for grants twice that size. 

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School children across the state will return to learning at home.

The rest of Victoria will be under stage three restrictions from the upcoming Thursday, with restaurants, cafes, bars and gyms closed.

The new measures across the state are to remain in place until at least September 13.

"As much as we'd like one, there is no playbook when it comes to a pandemic. But what is clear is that if we don't do this now, if this doesn't work, then we'll need a much longer list of complete shutdowns," said Andrews in the statement.

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'Public health bushfire'

A state of disaster was first called in Victoria during the massive bushfires there six months ago, and Andrews drew parallels between the two situations.

"This is a public health bushfire, but you can't smell the smoke and you can't see the flames. This is very different; it is a wicked enemy," he said.

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Far-reaching powers

Under Victoria's Emergency Management Act of 1986, in a state of disaster the state's Emergency Services Minister can "control and restrict entry into, movement within and departure from the disaster area of any part of it," according to public broadcaster ABC.

The act also allows the minister, or the police or emergency services that answer to him or her, to take possession of any property if such a move is deemed necessary under a state of disaster.

Victoria has been under a state of emergency since March 16. 

tj,kbd/ (AFP, dpa, Reuters)