The Australian state of Victoria has declared a state of disaster and is introducing the country’s toughest-ever COVID-19 lockdown measures.
The move comes as a further 671 cases and seven deaths were confirmed Sunday. Australia has had almost 18,000 coronavirus infections. More than 200 people have died.
A “public health bushfire” is how the authorities in Victoria have described the COVID-19 emergency. “You can’t smell the smoke and you can’t see the flames” but this, they have said, was a “wicked enemy.”
A state of disaster has been declared and Melbourne, a city of five million people, is under tough new restrictions, including a night-time curfew that will last for six weeks.
After early success in suppressing the coronavirus, Australia has had fewer confirmed infections and deaths than many other countries. But the worsening situation in Victoria has the entire country on edge.
“This is devastating that we are heading for the stage four restrictions, that there is curfews imposed, that there is more restrictions on the movement of people throughout the community. Of course, more school closures. Nobody wanted it to get to this,” Australia’s Federal Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said.
“We feel we are very much in a war-like situation. Every Victorian is on the front line. We cannot afford any holes in our defense, so everybody needs to follow these rules. There is only one way out and that is to stem the tide of new cases.”
The Victorian state government says that previous disease control measures were working too slowly. Residents will have to stay within 5 kilometres of their homes, and only one person per household is allowed to go shopping for food each day. Schools and childcare centres will close.
Australia’s strictest lockdown follows the deadliest week of the pandemic here so far. Health experts believe a surge in COVID-19 cases was exacerbated by a relaxation of earlier restrictions, complacency on social distancing, and sheer bad luck.
A state of disaster gives police and emergency services broader powers to enforce restrictions, including the curfew. It is an emergency that “constitutes or is likely to constitute a significant and widespread danger to life or property in Victoria.”