SYDNEY (Reuters) – Australia’s second-most populous state will relax restrictions on many of the 3,000 people locked down in nine public-housing towers despite surging numbers of COVID-19 cases, state premier Daniel Andrews said on Thursday.
Victoria state on Saturday confined residents of the towers in their homes amid a spike in COVID-19 cases, prompting widespread criticism from residents.
Andrews said that after testing all 3,000 people in the towers, residents in eight of the high-rise buildings would be allowed to leave their homes for essential reasons, the same rules in force throughout the state.
“There are such numbers of positive cases, together with known close contacts, that the assumption has got to be that everybody in that tower is a close contact of someone who is positive,” Andrews said of the tower that will remain in lockdown.
The relaxation of the rules relieved residents, many of whom have said they have been left without sufficient food and supplies.
“I can’t keep my kids anymore inside. I can’t, whether they shoot me or not. I don’t think I can stay any more here, not allowed even an hour to play outside,” said Amina Yussuf, an Australian citizen of Somali descent who lives with her seven children in two-bedroom apartment in one of the Melbourne towers for which the strict lockdown is ending.
Victoria state has imposed broad restrictions on nearly 5 million in an attention to curb the spread of coronavirus, allowing people to leave their homes only to work, buy food or seek medical attention.
Australia has avoided the high casualty numbers of other countries to the COVID-19 pandemic, which has killed 544,055 people globally, but the outbreak in Victoria has stoked concerns of a second wave nationally.
Other states and territories have recorded few or zero cases in recent weeks and are continuing to reopen their economies, but Prime Minister Scott Morrison told residents not to become complacent.
“We must continue to follow those social distancing protocols all around Australia, even in states or territories where the number of cases is effectively zero,” Morrison told reporters in Canberra.
Many states have shut their borders with Victoria in an attempt to stop COVID-19 from spreading.
The northern state of Queensland said it would ban non-residents arriving from Victoria. It will open its borders to people from other states and territories on Friday.
Even people travelling from Victoria who were willing to pay for the mandatory 14-day hotel quarantine would be banned, the Queensland government said.
“They are making the decision that that two weeks and that cost is worth it to get out of Victoria,” deputy premier Stephen Miles said in a televised news conference.
The country’s most populous state, New South Wales (NSW), closed its heavily trafficked border to neighbouring Victoria on Wednesday. South Australia also closed its border with Victoria.
NSW says anyone arriving from Victoria must self-isolate for 14 days.
The island state of Tasmania kept its border closed to Victoria and extended a state of emergency to the end of August because of the Victorian outbreak. Tasmania itself has not reported a new case in nearly eight weeks.
Western Australia state had closed its border to the rest of Australia indefinitely before the latest outbreak in Victoria.
After enforcing restrictions early in the coronavirus outbreak compared to most other countries, Australia had begun to ease its lockdown in May to revive its economy after a significant slowdown in infection rates.
Australian Treasurer Josh Frydenberg on Wednesday said the Victoria state lockdown would cost the national economy A$1 billion ($698.5 million) each week.
Australia has so far recorded about 8,900 infections and 106 deaths by Thursday.
(This story has been refiled to add missing word from first paragraph)
(Reporting by Renju Jose and Byron Kaye; Editing by Michael Perry and Gerry Doyle)