In a dramatic reimposition of public health emergency measures, the premier of Victoria state, Australia’s second-most populous, announced the establishment of a “hard boundary” around Melbourne, a six-week lockdown in the city and the closure of Victoria’s border with New South Wales state in an attempt to halt further spread of the coronavirus.
Premier Daniel Andrews said the lockdown takes effect at 11:59 p.m. Wednesday (9:59 a.m. ET).
Andrews said he was acting on the advice of public health officials, who reported 191 new COVID-19 infections in the past 24 hours, the highest toll since the pandemic began.
“If we were to fail to take those steps, then it won’t be a couple of hundred cases per day it will be many more than that and it will quickly spiral well and truly out of control,” Andrews said.
The lockdown applies to Melbourne, its suburbs and another nearby region, Mitchell Shire, which have all seen a spike in cases. Residents will be permitted to leave their homes only to shop for essentials; medical care and caregiving; work and study impossible to do from home; and exercise. Visitors are not permitted in homes.
Victoria Police will maintain roadblocks between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria. The lockdown affects almost 5 million people, according to the Melbourne Herald Sun.
The border closure between Victoria and New South Wales is the first since the Spanish flu pandemic a century ago. The closure begins at midnight Tuesday (10 a.m. ET) and will be enforced by police and military personnel. Violators are subject to a fine of 11,000 Australian dollars ($7,630) and up to six months incarceration.
Elsewhere in Australia coronavirus cases have all but disappeared. The country of 25.4 million has had notable success containing the virus, reporting only 8,755 cases and 106 deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University & Medicine Coronavirus Resource Center.
A judicial investigation is underway to determine the cause of Melbourne’s outbreak. Attention has been largely focused on lax security at Melbourne hotels which housed people arriving from abroad, who were required to quarantine for 14 days.
Andrews acknowledged the return to lockdown will be onerous and have a large negative impact on the state’s economy. But he said there was simply no alternative.
“We have to be realistic about the circumstances that we confront,” Andrews said. “We have to be clear with each other, that this is not over. And pretending that it is because we all wanted to be over, is not the answer.”