Australia cheers end of Melbourne lockdown

MELBOURNE (AFP) – Cheers rang in in Australia’s second-biggest city as a months-long coronavirus lockdown ended yesterday, contrasting with deepening gloom in Europe where France and Germany were set to reintroduce curbs.

The pandemic has unleashed vast devastation across the global economy and in the absence of a vaccine or effective treatment, countries are being forced to impose widely unpopular Covid-19 restrictions that have sparked violent clashes in Italy.

Much of the United States – the worst-hit nation in the world – is also bracing for a tough winter, but there was exhilaration and relief in Melbourne as its five million people were able to return to shops and restaurants after months at home.

“We’ve really been awaiting this day for very long,” Department Store Manager Magda Combrinck told AFP. “It’s a big day for us.”

Australia’s control of its outbreak stood in stark contrast to the surging virus in Europe, with Germany regularly reporting 10,000 new infections every day, daily cases in France topping 50,000, and hospitals in Belgium nearing capacity.

Diners at a restaurant looking out towards St Kilda Beach in Melbourne, Australia. PHOTO: AP

German Chancellor Angela Merkel pushed for lockdown measures in crisis talks with the country’s regional leaders yesterday. The proposed new restrictions include closing restaurants and putting strict limits on private and public gatherings while keeping schools, daycares and shops open, according to the Bild daily.

Media reports in France, meanwhile, said President Emmanuel Macron may extend the hours of an existing curfew, with possibly a full lockdown on weekends, or order targetted lockdowns in the hardest-hit regions.

And in Russia, an order making masks mandatory at public gatherings, on public transport and in elevators came into force yesterday, state news agency TASS reported.

The new restrictions are likely to test the resolve and patience of many. Anger has already boiled over in Italy, where thousands have protested in recent days against anti-coronavirus curbs.

Some of the rallies have turned violent, particularly in Milan and Turin on Monday night, where angry youth threw petrol bombs and stones at police cars and smashed up shop fronts.

The coronavirus has infected close to 44 million people worldwide, with well over 1.1 million deaths, and spurred breakneck efforts to develop treatments and vaccines to help restore normality.