Australia’s Melbourne to allow residents to leave city, despite COVID-19 outbreak

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Australia’s second largest city will allow its five millions residents to travel more than 25 kms (15 miles) from home and end mandatory masks wearing outdoors from Friday, despite the city fighting a stubborn COVID-19 outbreak.

Melbourne exited a two-week hard lockdown late last week, its fourth since the pandemic began, after an outbreak that has seen about 100 cases since May 24.

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“Victoria is at its best when we are all together ... the state will come back together from tomorrow night”, Victoria state Acting Premier James Merlino told reporters on Wednesday.

Although cases linked to a fresh cluster in a residential townhouse complex rose slightly on Wednesday, Melbourne will gradually ease restrictions.

Public gatherings will increased to 20 people while the ban on home gatherings will be lifted. Gyms can open across Melbourne but must comply to strict distancing rules and salon services can operate without masks during service.

Victoria reported five new local cases on Wednesday, all linked to the townhouse cluster, taking total infections there to eight. Wednesday’s data includes two cases announced on Tuesday which were recorded after the midnight cut-off deadline.

Officials deemed the new cases pose low risks of community spread as all have been linked to the existing outbreak but warned people to strictly follow the social distancing rules.

“It isn’t over yet by no means ... please don’t go back to behaviors that would suggest that there’s absolutely no risk,” Victoria state Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said during a televised media conference.

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Swift contact tracing, snap lockdowns and strict social distancing measures has helped Australia successfully combat prior outbreaks and keep its COVID-19 numbers relatively low, with just under 30,300 cases and 910 deaths.

Daily cases have remained in single digits for the last nine days in Victoria while other states and territories have effectively eliminated the virus.

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