A State of Disaster has been declared in Victoria, with authorities imposing Stage Four restrictions on metropolitan Melbourne after 671 new coronavirus infections were announced on Sunday.
Premier Daniel Andrews also confirmed seven further coronavirus deaths within the state, six connected to clusters in aged care, raising the state’s death toll to 123.
Forty seven aged care residents are currently living with COVID-19 in Victoria.
The national death toll now stands at 208, with 408 people in hospital and 46 in intensive care.
With 760 “mystery cases” across the state, where the source of infection could not be traced, Mr Andrews has announced further restrictions on metropolitan Melbourne for the next six weeks.
From Sunday night, a daily curfew from 8pm to 5am will be put in place across the city, and exercise will be limited to one hour daily within five km of home.
Residents will only be able to leave their home to buy food, work or study, exercise or give care.
“Community transmission is in many respects out biggest challenge and the reason why we need to move to a different set of rules,” Mr Andrews said on Sunday.
“If you have that many cases of community transmission, you must assume you have even more and on that basis you can no longer be confident that you’ve got a precise understanding of how much virus is there. You have to er on the side of caution and go further and harder.”
The premier warned there will be zero tolerance for those violating the new curfew orders.
“We can no longer have people visiting others. We can no longer have people simply out and about for no good reason whatsoever.
“If you are out with no good reason to be out after 8pm tonight, you will be caught and you will be fined.”
“The time for leniency, the time for warnings and cautions is over.”
Restrictions tighten on regions
Regional Victoria will move to Stage Three restrictions from midnight on Wednesday.
Restaurants and cafes in those areas will be restricted to offering takeaway or home deliveries.
On Wednesday, school students across the state will return to remote learning, with Year 11 and Year 12 students in metropolitan Melbourne to return to home learning.
Childcare services will also be closed, with exemptions for vulnerable children and the children of essential workers.
From Thursday, weddings in the regions will be banned, with exemptions offered only on compassionate grounds.
Religious gatherings will also be limited to five people.
The premier said new business and industry restrictions will be announced tomorrow.
He assured Victorians essential services including supermarkets will remain open.
“There’s no need to be queuing up at the Coles or Woolworths or queuing up at the local baker or butcher, they’ll remain open.”
‘The end for many businesses’
The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry warned Stage 4 restrictions, while necessary to stop the spread of coronavirus, will have a devastating impact on businesses and jobs.
Victorian Chamber Chief Executive Paul Guerra said it was “a very tough day for Victoria”, with employees now having to supervise school-aged children at home again and childcare centres closing in Melbourne for the first time.
“Stage 4 will mean the end for many businesses, with thousands more jobs set to be lost,” Mr Guerra said.
“It is very disappointing that regional Victorian businesses will now also face Stage 3 restrictions after a period of restarting.”
“The only glimmer of hope is that with such extreme measures we can stop the spread and get Victoria back into a position where we can talk about opening up our economy again.”
The Victoria Tourism Industry Council (VTIC) warned the increased restrictions would further devastate the state’s ailing tourism and event industry.
“While we completely respect the need for these drastic measures to get the virus under control, this six-week dramatic shutdown will gut our industry and dim the prospects of making it through to the other side of this situation, for many,” VTIC Chief Executive Felicia Mariani said.
Australian Medical Association President Dr Omar Khorshid welcomed the announcement of additional COVID-19 restrictions across Victoria on Sunday.
“Every Australian wants to see Victoria succeed in halting the spread of COVID-19. Stopping the virus needs both tougher restrictions and better compliance by citizens,” Dr Khorshid said.
“These new restrictions will mean hardship and inconvenience for many Victorians and another interruption for the economy…
“The alternative, though, is continued spread of the virus through the Victorian community, more illness and deaths, and increasing pressure on a strained health system.”
‘We will need our resilience’
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt said Sunday “was one of the hardest days in Victoria’s history” but said the new measures were “regrettably necessary”.
Mr Hunt acknowledged how the extended lockdown would pose a “very significant challenge” for the mental health of many Victorians.
“With this lockdown there will be mental health challenges. I want to say it’s normal. It’s understandable for somebody to be feeling depressed or anxious, isolated and that we understand and there is support,” he said on Sunday.
The minister announced an expansion of the Better Access to Psychiatrists, Psychologists and General Practitioners initiative for those needing mental health support. Medicare rebates will now be available for an additional 10 services per year from the 10 services currently available.
Mr Hunt asked Victorians to draw on their resilience.
“We will need our resilience more than ever before… and I believe we have this resilience. You can never
underestimate Australians and never underestimate Victorians and at this time they will rise to the most difficult of challenges.”
He also urged Victorians to reach out to each other.
“Whether it is doing the shopping for an isolated senior who may be a neighbour, whether it’s getting on the telephone, calling people. This is the moment to be our strongest best community. We’re going to get through this. I know that. I believe that,” Mr Hunt said.
The State of Disaster in Victoria, in place from 6pm on Sunday night, will exist in addition to the State of Emergency already in place, which gives police additional powers.
There are now 1,500 members of the ADF assisting in the coronavirus response.
NSW recorded 12 new COVID-19 cases on Sunday. State health authorities updated mask usage recommendations to include public-facing workers, worshippers and residents near clusters.
South Australia has recorded two new cases, one a young woman who attended a school while likely infectious. The state has warned of the potential for tougher protection measures. The woman was a close contact of a known COVID-19 case and has been placed in hotel quarantine.
Queensland confirmed one positive case on Sunday, a young consular staff member who was infectious on a domestic flight after returning from overseas. The man, who is in quarantine, flew into Maroochydore from Sydney on Friday on Jetstar flight JQ790.
Readers seeking support can contact Lifeline crisis support on 13 11 14, Suicide Call Back Service on 1300 659 467 and Kids Helpline on 1800 55 1800 (for young people aged 5 to 25).
Residents in metropolitan Melbourne are subject to stay-at-home orders and can only leave home for essential work, study, exercise or care responsibilities. It is also mandatory to wear masks in public.
People in Australia must stay at least 1.5 metres away from others. Check your state’s restrictions on gathering limits.
If you are experiencing cold or flu symptoms, stay home and arrange a test by calling your doctor or contact the Coronavirus Health Information Hotline on 1800 020 080. News and information is available in 63 languages at sbs.com.au/coronavirus