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Australia's Melbourne braces for more business closures as tougher restrictions bite

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MELBOURNE (Reuters) — Australia’s second-biggest city Melbourne entered its first day of tougher restrictions to contain the spread of a resurgent coronavirus on Monday as residents braced for further announcements on business closures.

The state of Victoria declared a “state of emergency” on Sunday and imposed a nightly curfew for the capital as part of the country’s harshest movement restrictions to date.

The move was backed by the federal government with Prime Minister Scott Morrison saying it was “regrettably necessary” to stop the spread of the pandemic.

State Premier Daniel Andrews was expected to announce fresh measures around businesses that must close later on Monday.

Under the new restrictions, a curfew from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m. 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.

Few people were out and about in the city center on Monday morning, and traffic volumes thinned to half of what were already light flows, with police being given powers to ensure people are complying with public-health directions.

Supermarkets will remain open along with restaurant takeaway and delivery services, but some businesses that previously had not been forced to close will be asked to shut down. Schools will move to remote learning from Wednesday.

“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 was due to report another 429 cases on Monday, local media reported ahead of the release of official figures, down from 671 infections on Sunday.

While Australia has fared far better than many other countries in keeping the coronavirus from spreading, high numbers of community transmissions and cases of unknown origins have forced the new restrictions.

In all, Australia has recorded more than 17,923 cases and 208 deaths.

The Victorian outbreak has scuppered Australia’s hopes for a quick economic rebound from the country’s first recession in nearly three decades.

The surge in new cases will also see an Australia-New Zealand travel bubble delayed indefinitely, New Zealand Prime Minister Jacinda Arden said on Monday.

“Part of our criteria is anywhere we have quarantine-free travel, they have to be free of community transmission for a period of time, 28 days,” she told New Zealand’s network Three.

“That is going to take a long time for Australia...so that will be on the backburner for some time.”

Both countries had previously said international travel between the two could restart as soon as September.

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