Daniel Andrews has set up a so-called ‘ring of steel’ around Melbourne to stop residents heading to regional Victoria where coronavirus restrictions have been finally relaxed.
Although there are no actual fences, police will use checkpoints at major highways, automatic number plate recognition and extra patrols at bus and train stations to catch city dwellers trying to escape strict lockdown.
Five million Melbourne residents, who are stuck in one of the world’s longest lockdowns, will be slapped with a $4,957 fine for breaching public health rules if they dare to leave.
The isolation of Australia’s second biggest city is similar to the lockdown of Wuhan, the Chinese metropolis of nine million where coronavirus was identified late last year.
Wuhan was shut down on 23 January as all flights, trains and buses in and out were cancelled and steel fences were set up outside apartment buildings to keep residents in their homes.
The lockdown was lifted in April after 11 weeks, four weeks fewer than Melbourne’s shutdown is due to last.
It comes as Victoria recorded only 28 new cases of coronavirus on Thursday – its lowest daily total since 24 June.
Daniel Andrews has effectively set up a ‘ring of steel’ around Melbourne to stop residents heading to regional Victoria
Although there are no actual fences, police will use checkpoints at major highways, automatic number plate recognition and extra patrols. Pictured: A checkpoint in Geelong
Premier Andrews (pictured) is desperate to stop coronavirus spreading from Melbourne to the regions
Officers say they will check cars with caravans and fishing rods as well as increase patrols at camp sites and national parks to catch any city residents who have escaped.
There will also be increased checks at popular holiday destinations such as the Mornington Peninsula where many well-heeled Melburnians have second homes.
On Wednesday major checkpoints were set up on the Princes Freeway at Little River heading to Geelong and the Calder Freeway near Sunbury on the way to Bendigo.
Premier Andrews is desperate to stop coronavirus spreading from Melbourne to the regions, which have suffered significantly fewer case numbers and were removed from lockdown on Wednesday night.
He said: ‘Whether you want to call it a ring of steel or a border or whatever the term, the key aim is very simple: only those who have to go to regional Victoria and have a lawful reason to go to regional Victoria can go to regional Victoria.
‘We’ve got to be inflexible on this.’
He added: ‘The police are not mucking about. If you are from Melbourne and you are in regional Victoria and do not have an appropriate excuse, you will be fined.
‘Victorians have given a lot but we need to guard the low numbers in regional Victoria.
‘Anyone who thinks they might take a punt on heading to regional Victoria and not getting caught, I think your odds are very poor.’
Melbourne’s lockdown will last 15 weeks, a month longer than the lockdown of Wuhan (pictured), the Chinese city where the virus was first identified late last year
The Chinese city of Wuhan was locked down on 23 January when nine million residents (pictured) were prevented from leaving the city
A worker in a protective outfit checks the body temperature of an elderly woman at the entrance of a bank, in Wuhan, China in March
Mr Andrews also asked pub landlords to check customers’ identification to make sure they are not from Melbourne.
‘If you’re not from regional Victoria, then you should not be at the pub, and that compliance will be very, very important,’ he said.
Victoria was placed back into lockdown on 8 July after coronavirus escaped from hotel quarantine in late May and spread rapidly. Some 700 cases were recorded in one day on 5 August and more than 700 people have died, mostly in aged care.
Under Mr Andrews’ road map out of restrictions, Melbourne will remain locked down until weekly average cases drop below five, which is not expected until October 26.
That would mean Melbourne’s lockdown would have lasted 15 weeks, a month longer than the shutdown of Wuhan.
Police will try to catch city dwellers trying to escape strict coronavirus lockdown. Pictured: A checkpoint at Kalkallo
Officers say they will check cars with caravans and fishing rods as well as increase patrols at camp sites and national parks. Pictured: A checkpoint at Albury
For regional Victoria, the four reasons to leave home no longer apply, most workplaces are reopening and schools are returning with a staggered start.
Gathering limits have increased to 10 people outdoors and up to five nominated visitors from another household bubble.
Restaurants are operating with a cap of 10 seated patrons indoors and 50 outdoors.
Gathering limits have also increase to 10 people at weddings, 20 mourners at funerals and 10 people plus one faith leader at outdoor religious gatherings.
Children can also return to community sport and adults will be able to take part in non-contact sport.
Melburnians (pictured at Elwood beach) are expected to be stuck in lockdown until October 26
Everyone in Melbourne must wear a mask when leaving home. Pictured: Residents at South Melbourne Beach
Mr Andrews announced the eased restrictions for regional Victorians on Tuesday.
‘I am so, so pleased and proud of every single regional Victorian who has stayed the course, follow the rules and got tested.
‘There is no greater evidence to the people of Melbourne that this strategy, getting numbers low, is essential,’ Mr Andrews explained.
Melbourne took its first tentative steps out of lockdown on Monday, with those living alone or single parents allowed to have one visitor, outdoor exercise extended to two hours and the curfew’s start time pushed back an hour to 9pm.
What can regional Victorians do under relaxed restrictions from Thursday 17 September?
Outdoor gathering limits will increase to 10 people. That number does not include infants under the age of 12 months.
People in regional Victoria will also be able to leave their homes without restriction.
Limits for outdoor religious gatherings and weddings will increase to 10 people, while funeral limits will rise to 20 mourners.
Five visitors are allowed in a home from a nominated household.
Schools will return to normal operation over the first two weeks of Term 4.
Outdoor auctions will be allowed to have a maximum of 10 people in attendance.
Children can return to community sport and adults can take part in non-contact sport.
Regional Victorians can travel and holiday within regional parts of the state – with tourist accommodation in those areas also opening up