New lockdown ratchets up economic pain in Australian city

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Pellegrinis Cafe and The Paperback book store are closed during lockdown due to the continuing spread of the coronavirus in Melbourne, Thursday, Aug. 6, 2020. 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/Andy Brownbill)

MELBOURNE – A bright side for plant nurseries of Melbourne’s first pandemic stay-at-home order was that many householders took the time to garden. But the latest lockdown in Australia’s second-largest city is far tougher.

More than 250,000 people were thrown out of work on Thursday. Those whose jobs are deemed essential need government-issued permits to travel the near-empty streets of a virtual ghost town to get to their jobs.

The rolling restrictions have created confusion and uncertainly in a population navigating Australia’s toughest-ever lockdown that makes masks compulsory and imposes an 8 p.m.-to-5 a.m. curfew.

Melbourne horticulturist Simon Collings said nurseries such as his own and hardware industries became the surprise winners of the city's original lockdown in March when home improvement became a popular pastime.

“The first time, everybody went: ‘Oh my god!’ and then everything turned out to be fine,” Collings said.

“Gardening was one of the few things you could do at home, so nurseries did well for three or four months ... but it has a totally different feel this time,” he added.

Customers can order deliveries or buy online and collect but cannot enter a range of businesses including nurseries.

John van der Horst, who also owns a Melbourne nursery, said the new shopping restrictions had “changed things dramatically.” The real economic pain to nurseries is expected to come in September with the Southern Hemisphere spring.