People rushed to supermarkets and emptied the shelves on Wednesday morning as millions in Melbourne prepared for a return to virus lockdown, fearing that the new restrictions could cost the economy AUS$1 billion a week.
Five million residents were ordered back into a six-week lockdown beginning midnight Wednesday into Thursday as soaring community transmission of the coronavirus brings more than 100 new cases daily.
A further 134 infections were detected in the past 24 hours and considered as a major surge in Australia, which had otherwise been successful in containing Covid-19.
Woolworths, which is the country’s largest supermarket chain, said it had reimposed buying limits on items including pasta, vegetables and sugar after shoppers rushed to stores across Victoria state.
Experts have warned that people everywhere will have to get used to the “new normal” of on-and-off restrictions as new clusters emerge and subside, let alone the economic and health impacts it will bring.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Melbourne lockdown would cost the economy up to Aus$1 billion ($700 million) a week, telling public broadcaster ABC the burden would “fall heavily on businesses”.
Restaurants and cafes will be limited to serving takeaway food, while gyms, beauty salons and cinemas will be forced to close again.
Residents will be restricted to their homes except for work, exercise, medical care or to buy essentials — a return to social isolation that was only recently lifted.
Professor Michael Kyrios, a clinical psychologist at Flinders University warned that Victoria needed to brace for a “coming mental health crisis” as a result.
State Premier Daniel Andrews said “this is not the situation that anybody wanted to be in but it is the reality that we must confront.To do otherwise is to pretend that this isn’t real, to pretend that we have other options.”
Health authorities say they have linked many of the Melbourne cases to hotels where residents returning from overseas were being quarantined.
Around 3,000 people in the city have already been locked inside their homes since Saturday in Australia’s strictest coronavirus response to date after a cluster emerged in a high-rise public housing estate.
Long queues of cars were backed up at Victoria’s border Wednesday after neighbouring New South Wales closed the boundary for the first time in the pandemic — essentially sealing off the state from the rest of Australia.
Source: Thai PBS World