By Byron Kaye
SYDNEY (Reuters) – The Australian state of Victoria introduced the country’s first lockdown measures specifically targeted at local suburban areas after a spike in coronavirus cases in Melbourne, the nation’s second largest city.
The new curbs come even as two other Australian states looked to ease domestic border restrictions with other parts of the country where the virus has largely been contained.
From midnight the following day, Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said people in 10 affected postcodes around Melbourne must stay home unless they are travelling for work, school, exercise or food for a period of four weeks.
Cafes and restaurants would need to revert to takeaway only, just weeks after they returned to seated diners.
“If we don’t take these steps now we will finish up in a situation (where rather) than locking down 10 postcodes, we will be locking down every postcode,” Andrews told reporters.
The northern state of Queensland said it would reopen its border to the rest of the country from July 10 while keeping out arrivals from Victoria.
South Australia meanwhile cancelled a scheduled reopening of its border to some states, also citing the increase in Victoria cases, but said it would soon allow people in from states with fewer new infections.
The changes in Queensland and South Australia take the nation closer to its goal of unfettered domestic movement while isolating shutting out Victoria, home to nearly a quarter of the country’s 25 million population.
Victoria has reported double-digit daily increases in COVID-19 infections for each of the past 14 days, while most other states report zero or low single-digit increases.
The surge in Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, has driven up the national daily increase in virus infections to its highest levels since April.
On Tuesday, Victoria reported 64 new infections in the previous 24 hours, compared to zero in most major states.
“Queensland has very large concerns about the state of Victoria,” Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk told reporters.
“There is community transmission. There have been outbreaks in hotels, schools, healthcare, retail and a distribution centre. The border with Victoria will remain closed and will be strengthened.”
Queensland does not share a border with Victoria but would make people entering from other sign a declaration that they had not been to Victoria for 14 days with a A$4,000 fine if they lied.
The 64 new infections are lower than the previous day’s 75 but far higher than any other state.
The spike in that state’s infections may delay federal government ambitions of setting up a “travel bubble” with neighbouring New Zealand that would allow the movement of people between the two countries. New Zealand has said it would not consider reopening its border with Australia while its own domestic borders are closed.
South Australia, which borders Victoria, cancelled a planned July 20 reopening to the states it has not already allowed back in, although state premier Steven Marshall said he would consider allowing arrivals from states where infections were contained.
“We have worked so hard to get ourselves into a very enviable position and we are not prepared to go backwards,” Marshall told reporters.
South Australia’s borders with Western Australia, Tasmania, Queensland and the Northern Territory were reopened earlier this month.
Australia has fared better than many countries in the pandemic, with around 7,800 cases and 104 deaths, but the recent surge has stoked fears of a second wave.
NSW, the country’s most populous state, said it would continue to keep its border open as it focused on supporting its economy amid the pandemic. The state reported no new cases on Tuesday.
(Reporting by Byron Kaye; Editing by Sam Holmes)