One of the world’s most locked-down cities reopened late yesterday, with Melbourne residents hoping this sixth bout of stay-at-home restrictions will be their last.
Five million people in Australia’s second-biggest city have endured lockdowns totalling more than 260 days since the beginning of the pandemic.
But now that 70% of eligible people in Melbourne and surrounding Victoria state are fully vaccinated, restrictions that began on August 5 were lifted.
State deputy premier James Merlino hailed the state’s “extraordinary efforts.”
“I hope everyone enjoys those first reunions with their families, the first footy, netball and cricket training with the kids,” Merlino said.
Half a dozen lockdowns have taken their toll on the once-buzzing city, which prided itself on a vibrant arts scene and cafe culture. In 2021, it lost the mantle of Australia’s most liveable city amid violent anti-lockdown protests and a small exodus of residents to Covid-free regional towns.
Authorities yesterday announced a fresh boost to mental health funding and services, in a nod to the burden placed on Melbourne residents.
Multiple studies have found elevated levels of psychological distress during the pandemic, official government research shows. David Malaspina, owner of loved Melbourne eatery Pellegrini’s Espresso Bar, said lingering Covid-safe rules were “exceptionally challenging” but he was excited to welcome back customers.
“Our city’s great because of the people that are here. We would like to see our people back,” he said.
While fully vaccinated Melbourne residents now have increased freedoms, they cannot leave the city and retail shops must remain closed until the double-dose rate lifts to 80% – likely within weeks.
Limits on patrons at cafes and restaurants, however, remain in place, squeezing business owners who are also grappling with staff shortages caused by international border closures.
Australia’s ABC News reported yesterday that Victoria will also lift quarantine requirements for international travellers at the end of the month.
Sydney and surrounding New South Wales state are also set to scrap the requirements on November 1.
While varying rules make it difficult to directly compare lockdowns — Toronto eateries were reportedly closed to diners for more than 360 days while Buenos Aires was under harsh restrictions for much of 2020 — Melbourne has spent among the most days under stay-at-home orders.
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