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Parts of Australian city locked down to curb virus spike

People in Melbourne will be allowed to leave their homes only for work or school, to exercise, or to buy food and other essential items
People in Melbourne will be allowed to leave their homes only for work or school, to exercise, or to buy food and other essential items Allan LEE AFP
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Melbourne (AFP)

Hundreds of thousands of people across Melbourne's north and west were ordered to stay at home Tuesday as Australia's second-biggest city struggled to contain a spike in coronavirus cases.

The state of Victoria has recorded 233 COVID-19 cases since Thursday -- mostly in Melbourne -- a major surge in a country that has otherwise successfully curbed the spread of the virus.

State premier Daniel Andrews said Melbourne would be subject to the lockdown from midnight local time Wednesday. The areas covered are home to more than 300,000 people.

People will be allowed to leave their homes only for work or school, to exercise, or to buy food and other essential items.

Residents from other areas will be prevented from entering the worst-affected communities in the city, with police on patrol and officers stopping cars to conduct random checks.

"These are extraordinary steps," Andrews said.

"But such is the nature of this virus, it is so wildly infectious that if we don't take these steps now we will finish up in a situation that rather than locking down ten postcodes we will be locking down every postcode," he added, referring to areas of the city affected.

"I don't want to get to that point."

Andrews said he had asked Prime Minister Scott Morrison to divert international flights bound for Melbourne to other cities in Australia in a further effort to control the virus's spread.

Genomic sequencing showed Tuesday that a "significant number" of the outbreaks were linked to staff breaching infection-control protocols in hotels that are being used to quarantine Australians returning from overseas, Andrews added.

Australia has recorded about 7,800 cases of coronavirus and 104 deaths in a population of 25 million.

Several regions are believed to be effectively virus free, allowing states to continue rolling back restrictions first introduced in late March.

Victoria, which had curbed the virus through early restrictions on travel and gatherings, had been easing rules until the flare-up worsened last week.

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