Victoria state to end snap lockdown, allow fans at Australian Open

SYDNEY (Reuters) – A five-day snap lockdown in Australia’s Victoria state will end on Wednesday, officials said as they reported no new cases in a cluster linked to a quarantine hotel in the city of Melbourne.

A man walks past a ‘Please Stay Home’ sign on the first day of a five-day lockdown implemented in the state of Victoria in response to a coronavirus disease (COVID-19) outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, February 13, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders

State Premier Daniel Andrews said most mobility restrictions will be lifted at midnight, but masks will remain mandatory both indoors and outdoors when social distancing rules cannot be followed.

“In a broader sense, we are safe and open,” Andrews said in a televised media conference, but cautioned the latest outbreak had not yet been fully contained.

The lifting of restrictions will allow at least some spectators at the Australian Open tennis tournament in Melbourne, where players have competed in empty stadiums during the lockdown.

“There will be meetings early this afternoon … where we will go through what is a safe number and will get that decision made as soon as possible,” Andrews said.

Under the pre-lockdown agreement with Victoria government, crowds would have been limited to 25,000 for each day fo the final four days but Andrews said that figure might be reduced further.

Officials had allowed 30,000 spectators for each of the first eight days of the event – about half the normal attendance.

Prior to the lockdown, crowd numbers at the tournament were restricted to 25,000 and that could be reduced further for the final four days of the tournament, Andrews said.

The lockdown in Victoria, Australia’s second-most populous state, was sparked by the discovery of COVID-19 cases in a Melbourne quarantine hotel.

The number of cases swelled to 19, but no new infections were reported on Wednesday.

Residents of the state, more than a quarter of Australia’s 25 million population, were ordered to stay home except for work, buying groceries, outdoor exercise and caregiving.

Australia has largely avoided the high rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths seen in other developed countries thanks to border closures and effective contact tracing systems. It has reported just under 29,000 cases and 909 deaths.

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