MELBOURNE (Reuters) – Australia’s second-biggest city Melbourne already under night curfew announced fresh restrictions on industries on Monday, including retail and construction, as it steps up desperate efforts to contain the spread of a resurgent coronavirus.
From Wednesday night, Melbourne will close retail, some manufacturing and administrative businesses as part of a six week lockdown which is expected to hit 250,000 jobs, roughly the number already impacted.
The state of Victoria declared a “state of emergency” on Sunday due to a surge in community transmissions.
Australia has fared better than many countries, with 18,361 coronavirus cases and 221 deaths, but now risks losing control of the virus in Victoria state which has imposed the country’s harshest movement restrictions to date.
Neighboring states of New South Wales and South Australia have also stepped up precautions.
“As heartbreaking as it is to close down places of employment… that is what we have to do in order to stop the spread of this wildly infectious virus,” Victoria’s state premier Daniel Andrews told a news conference.
“Otherwise we are not in for six weeks of restrictions we’ll be in for a six month stint.”
Production at meatworks will be cut by one third and workers will be kitted out in protective gear, while construction activities will also be scaled back.
Supermarkets will remain open along with restaurant takeaway and delivery services, but many other retail outlets will close.
Andrews announced A$5,000 ($3,570) payments for affected businesses and flagged more announcements over penalties, enforcements and education on Tuesday. Schools will move to remote learning from Wednesday.
“This is a very tough day, and there are many more of those to come before we get to the other side of this,” Andrews said.
Restrictions announced on Sunday include curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. that will be in place for six weeks, barring the city’s nearly five million people from leaving their houses except for work or to receive or give care.
“This is devastating … nobody wanted it to get to this,” Treasurer Josh Frydenberg told Nine News television.
“There is only one way out and that is to stem the tide of new cases. This is a big kick in the guts to thousands of small businesses right across the state,” he added.
Victoria makes up about a quarter of the national economy.
The state reported 429 new cases on Monday, down from 671 new infections on Sunday, but 13 more deaths was the second highest daily death toll.