The Victorian government will lock down all metropolitan Melbourne for six weeks from Wednesday night, as a new wave of the coronavirus takes hold in the city.
The lockdown will also cover the Mitchell Shire, north of Melbourne, which includes the towns of Broadford, Seymour, Kilmore, Tallarook, Pyalong and Wallan.
Under the restrictions, people will only be able to leave their home to shop for essential goods and services, for care and compassionate reasons, exercise, and for work and study if it cannot be conducted from home.
The dramatic action comes as the Victoria-NSW border closes on Tuesday night, amid some chaos in Albury-Wodonga, and follows the lockdown of suburbs in 12 Melbourne postcode areas, and the “lock in” of 3,000 residents in nine community housing towers.
Regional Victoria, which is not so far hit by the virus, has been saved from the latest restrictions.
On the key issue of schools, students in years 11 and 12 at government schools will return next week, after the holidays, and so will students in year 10 who are taking VCE subjects (for that component of their learning).
Specialist schools will also reopen next week for normal face-to-face programs. There will be supervised school holiday activity provided for the children of parents in essential jobs.
For other students, the school holidays will be extended by a week.
The government will announce more decisions on schooling by early next week. Talks are being held with Catholic and independent schools to reach consistent arrangements.
Victorian health authorities have been surprised by the number of school children who have been detected with the virus.
The Victorian restrictions will be a major blow to the re-opening of the national economy, and will have to be factored into the federal government’s July 23 economic statement on the road ahead. The new hit to the Victorian economy may mean more patchwork arrangements in federal government assistance.
Premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference he had just spoken to Scott Morrison and “I am confident that the Prime Minister knows and understands that there will be different forms of hardship in different parts of the country, different industries, different sectors”.
Announcing the lockdown, Andrews warned: “There is simply no alternative other than thousands and thousands of cases and potentially more, many, many people in hospital and the inevitable tragedy that will come from that”.
He said the restrictions went no further than last time but “we’re in a more precarious, challenging and potentially tragic position now than we were some months ago.”
Andrew said he’d asked Morrison for another 260 members of the Australian Defence Force to help on the ground. They will support the police patrolling the perimeter of the metropolitan area where there will be spot checks of cars.
The premier said there now 772 active cases across the state. This included 69 cases linked to the towers.
He said the numbers were “unsustainably high” – it was impossible to have enough contact-tracing staff and other resources to continue to suppress the virus without more measures.
“We have to be realistic,” he said.
He said “I think a sense of complacency has crept into us as we let our frustrations get the better of us”.
He warned Melbournians they must stay in their main home, and not relocate to holiday homes. When people left their home for exercise they should not think of driving to regional Victoria for a bushwalk.