Melbourne, Australia   |   Tue, July 7, 2020   |   06:13 pm

Nearly five million Melbourne residents will be put under another lockdown after coronavirus cases surged in Australia’s second-largest city.

From midnight on Wednesday, residents will be confined to their homes for six weeks – unless undertaking essential business such as travelling to work, studying, shopping for food or attending medical appointments – as officials scrambled to contain a coronavirus outbreak.

The decision, which affects around 4.9 million people, was announced just hours before the busy border between Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, and New South Wales is scheduled to close for the first time in a century.

From midnight on Wednesday, everyone in Melbourne will be required to stay home unless travelling to work, studying, shopping for food or attending medical appointments. Restaurants, cafes and bars will be able to provide takeaway service only, gyms and hair salons closed, household gatherings limited to two people and the current school vacation extended.

The decision was announced on Tuesday, hours before the busy border between Victoria, of which Melbourne is the capital, and New South Wales is scheduled to close for the first time in a century.

Restaurants, cafes and bars will be able to provide takeaway service only, gyms and hair salons closed, household gatherings limited to two people and the current school holiday extended.

People caught crossing the border without permission via any of the 55 roads, or several river and wilderness crossings, will face penalties including a fine of A$11,000 ($7,700) and six months imprisonment.

A second region in Victoria, where recent COVID-19 cases have been detected and which is home to 44,000 people, will face lockdown restrictions similar to Melbourne.

The border closure and reintroduction of restrictions in Melbourne deal a blow to Australia’s hopes for quick economic recovery as it approaches its first recession in nearly three decades, driven by social distancing restrictions imposed in March.

For businesses on the border, which last closed during the Spanish flu pandemic in 1919, it also poses an immediate logistics headache.

Daily travel permits will be granted to people who live in border towns and cities but with the closure just hours away, the application system was still being developed.

Kevin Mack, the mayor of Albury, a border town on the NSW side, said with an estimated 50,000 car movements across the state line every day “it will be a nightmare for everyone.”

“About a quarter of my staff like me live in NSW, and cross that border every day to come to work,” said Paul Armstrong, who runs a petrol station in Wodonga, a border town on the Victorian side. “I don’t know if they are going to be able to get in.”

Outside of the border towns, Victoria residents will be able to apply for a permit, but will need to prove a special need for their travel. Freight transporters will be free to cross the border without a permit, but will be subjected to random stops.

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