MELBOURNE: Australia's Victoria declared a state of disaster on Sunday (Aug 2) and imposed a nightly curfew for the capital Melbourne as part of its harshest movement restrictions to date to contain the coronavirus.
Melbourne, Australia's second-largest city, will move to Stage 4 restrictions until Sep 13 given "unacceptably high" levels of community transmission, said Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews.
Starting Sunday night for the next six weeks, the city's residents will face a curfew from 8pm to 5am. They will also not be able to go further than 5km from their home and will be limited to an hour of exercise a day.
Only one person per household will be able to shop for essential items each day, also within the same 5km radius.
Most school and university students in Melbourne will return to online learning from midnight on Wednesday, just weeks after returning to their classrooms, while kindergartens and daycare centres will be effectively closed from Thursday.
Supermarkets will remain open, and restaurants, already closed for dining in, will be able to continue with their takeaway and delivery services.
Weddings will also be banned in the city. At the height of the first wave of the pandemic, weddings in Australia were limited to five people.
"These are the decisions made because anything short of this will not keep us safe," Andrews said.
"Anything short of this will see it drag on for months and months and months."
Additional restrictions affecting workplaces would be announced on Monday, Andrews added, suggesting that non-essential businesses will face closures.
The state recorded 671 new COVID-19 cases and seven deaths from the virus on Sunday.
The federal government backed Victoria's measures, with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying in a post on his Facebook page that they were "regrettably necessary" to stop the spread of the pandemic.
"We are all in this together and we will get through it," Morrison said.
Australia's Health Minister Greg Hunt said at a televised briefing the federal government supports the measures with a "heavy" heart.
"We do so because they will help save and protect lives," Hunt said.
The backing by the federal government, ruled by a Liberal Party-led coalition, for the measures by Victoria's Labor Party government shows national unity across the political spectrum in a country with a loose federal system.
The state of disaster gives Victoria police additional powers to ensure people are complying with public health directions.
"We have no choice but to make these decisions and to push on," Andrews said. "This is the only option we have."
Outside Melbourne, the rest of Victoria will move to a Stage 3 lockdown from midnight on Wednesday with people allowed to leave home only for work, study, care and essential shopping.
Elsewhere in Australia, other states and territories have for weeks reported zero or a small number of cases while relaxing restrictions.
They have, however, banned visitors from Victoria and Sydney - another virus hotspot.
Australia's total reported COVID-19 infections reached almost 18,000 on Sunday, with 208 deaths in a population of 25 million.