City streets drain of life in Australia's toughest lockdown

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A man wearing a mask walks past Luna Park in the suburb of St Kilda during lockdown in Melbourne, Australia, Wednesday, Aug. 5, 2020. People are allowed to exercise for one hour a day within a 5-kilometer radius of their house. Victoria state, Australia's coronavirus hot spot, announced on Monday that businesses will be closed and scaled down in a bid to curb the spread of the virus. (AP Photo/Asanka Brendon Ratnayake)

MELBOURNE – Melbourne’s usually vibrant downtown streets were draining of signs of life on Wednesday on the eve of Australia’s toughest-ever pandemic restrictions coming into force.

Many of the stylish boutiques and eateries in a city dubbed Australia’s Hipster Capital that prides itself on superior coffee had already closed their doors ahead of a ban on non-essential businesses that will throw 250,000 people out of work from Thursday.

Defense personnel in camouflage fatigues and police officers patrolled the streets enforcing pandemic rules that include mandatory masks, which the few pedestrians were abiding by.

The closing down of Australia’s second-largest city, which usually accounts for a quarter of the nation’s economic activity, also coincided with frenetic preparation.

Hairdresser Niki Fiocca said she had been solidly booked by customers in recent days before her salon must close for at least six weeks.

“I just hope that this all works out for us,” said Fiocca, revealing she felt “a little bit under stress.”

“If everyone did the right thing, maybe this wouldn’t have happened,” she added, referring to Melbourne’s growing COVID-19 infections.

Victoria set a new daily record of 725 cases on Wednesday. Elsewhere in Australia, only 14 new infections were found.