At midnight, Australia’s second-largest state emerged from what some experts and local media called the world’s longest lockdown.
Victoria is the third state or territory – after New South Wales (NSW) and the Australian Capital Territory (ACT) – to begin living with Covid-19 after reaching its target of a 70% adult double vaccination rate.
The easing of restrictions means that, as of Friday, more than half of Australia’s nearly 26 million population is living with the virus, while authorities in the rest of the country push to raise vaccination rates while controlling borders to keep it out.
The division has created a two-speed path out of the pandemic led by states that have suffered the greatest toll, frustrating the federal government’s efforts to reopen the entire country to foreign arrivals for the first time in almost two years.
“We need to move in a pace the Australian public feel very comfortable with, we need to demonstrate that opening up those borders is being done safely, and they can feel confident, because I want us to open confidently,” Prime Minister Scott Morrison said Friday.
Victoria’s 6.7 million residents can now leave their homes for any reason, though they’ll need to show proof of full vaccination to enter public venues. Restaurants can cater for limited numbers of diners indoors, students are back in schools, and there’s no longer a 9 p.m. curfew in Melbourne.
However, stores selling non-essential goods won’t open until 80% of the state is double vaccinated and masks are required inside and out.
Still, the end of the lockdown is a huge relief for Melbourne residents who have spent more than 260 days confined to their homes, forbidden to leave except to buy groceries or other essential items, mostly in two long stretches from July to October, 2020 and August to October this year.
The latest lockdown was sparked by an outbreak of the highly-contagious Covid-19 Delta variant. Even as doors opened on Friday, the state recorded 2,189 new cases – and when people start moving around, it’s expected those daily case numbers will continue to rise.