Asia Pacific

Melbourne to ease more COVID curbs as 80% vaccination rate nears

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A woman wearing a protective face mask walks along a deserted city bridge during a lockdown as the state of Victoria looks to curb the spread of a COVID-19 outbreak in Melbourne, Australia, July 16, 2021. REUTERS/Sandra Sanders//File Photo/File Photo

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MELBOURNE, Oct 24 (Reuters) - Melbourne, the world's most locked-down city that emerged from its latest spate of COVID-19 restrictions on Friday, will see more curbs eased next week when Victoria state reaches an 80% full vaccination rate, officials said on Sunday.

Home to about five million people, Melbourne endured 262 days, or nearly nine months, of stay-at-home restrictions during six lockdowns since March 2020, longer than the 234-day continuous lockdown in Buenos Aires.

Starting on Friday, when 80% of people across Victoria - of which Melbourne is the capital - are expected to be fully vaccinated, Melburnians will be free to travel throughout the state and masks will no longer be required outdoors.

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"There's a fundamental agreement that we have reached with the Victorian community, we asked you to get vaccinated, you have done that in record time and record numbers," Premier Daniel Andrews said.

With a once-sputtering vaccine rollout now at full speed, authorities across Australia no longer plan to rely on extended lockdowns to suppress the virus. Victoria recorded 1,935 new coronavirus cases and 11 deaths on Sunday.

As the state moves towards a "vaccinated economy" in which only fully inoculated people will be allowed into venues, a 90% percent rate is expected around Nov. 24, Andrews said.

He added that he wanted to see crowds in excess of 80,000 at the Melbourne Cricket Ground for the Boxing Day Test on Dec. 26 between Australia and England.

"It's our approach to try and achieve life as close to normal as possible," Andrews said.

Australians overwhelmingly support vaccinations, with research by the Melbourne Institute at the University of Melbourne, showing in October that only 6.9% of the population were unwilling to be inoculated.

New South Wales state, whose capital Sydney spent 100 days in a lockdown that ended earlier this month, recorded 296 new COVID-19 cases and four deaths. Nearly 85% of the state's population have been fully vaccinated.

New Zealand, which is also learning to live with the virus through vaccinations, had 80 cases on Sunday, all in the North Island. On Saturday, it reported a first COVID-19 infection in nearly a year in the country's South Island.

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Reporting by Lidia Kelly; Editing by Kim Coghill

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