Australian state of Victoria extends strict COVID-19 lockdowns

– Officials in the Australian state of Victoria have extended a strict COVID-19 lockdown by two weeks, saying that virus numbers had not fallen enough to ease restrictions.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced Sunday that stage 4 restrictions would remain in place until September 28, with only a slight easing of restrictions until October.

Andrews said that despite the impact of the lockdowns on Victorians and the economy, modelling had clearly shown that to reopen prematurely would lead to a rapid increase in case numbers.

“There is only one option and that is to do this in a series of steady and safe steps. You can’t run out of lockdown. Because all you are doing is running into a third wave and we’ll all be locked up again,” Andrews said.

Victoria has been at the centre of Australia’s second wave of COVID-19 infections, recording close to 20,000 of the country’s 26,279 total cases, as well as roughly 90 percent of deaths, which on Monday topped 800.

From early August, Victoria’s capital Melbourne was placed under stage four restrictions including a nightly curfew, with residents only permitted to leave their homes for work and school, exercise, medical reasons or to shop for essentials.

On Monday, the state recorded just 41 new infections down from a peak of over 700 new cases recorded twice in late July and early August.

Despite officially remaining in stage 4 lockdown, Andrews said that Victorians would have the opportunity for expanded social interaction starting from September 13, when the lockdown was initially scheduled to end.

Public outdoor gatherings of no more than two people will be permitted for reasons other than the existing four, but can only last for two hours.

Subject to the daily case rate remaining low, restrictions will then be progressively eased according to a series of five steps, leading to “COVID normal” from roughly late November, with no restrictions for gatherings, visitors, hospitality or sport.

“I want a Christmas that is as close to normal as possible and this is the only way, these steps are the only way that we will get to that point,” Andrews said.