- Melbourne has been ordered back into six-week lockdown after spike in cases
- Supermarkets have re-imposed limits on stockpiling pasta, vegetables and sugar
- Experts fear the lockdown will cost the economy another £550million per week
Panic-buying is back in Australia today as five million people prepare to go back into lockdown in Melbourne tonight.
In echoes of the early weeks of the pandemic, supermarket shelves were stripped bare today with rolls of toilet paper piled high in shopping trolleys and retailers forced to limit sales of pasta and vegetables.
Victoria state officials have ordered the six-week lockdown after a surge in locally-acquired cases, with residents only allowed outside for essential reasons or exercise.
A further 134 infections have been detected in the last 24 hours - small in comparison to hard-hit countries such as the US and Brazil, but considered a major spike in Australia where the pandemic response had otherwise been a success.
Victoria has been recording more than 100 cases per day and yesterday announced two more deaths in the previous 36 hours.
The state was responsible for 191 of the 199 new cases reported nationally on Tuesday, the biggest one-day rise since early April.
'It's clear we are on the cusp of our second wave – and we cannot let this virus cut through our communities,' said Victoria premier Daniel Andrews.
'This is not where any of us wanted to be, but we have to face the reality of our situation. To do anything else would have deadly consequences.'
The lockdown means that restaurants and cafes will have to return to takeaway services only, while school holidays have been extended.
People are only allowed outside to buy food, provide care, work if necessary or take exercise, and cannot leave the lockdown zone unless essential.
'We have to be clear with each other that this is not over,' Mr Andrews said. 'And pretending that it is because we all want it to be over is not the answer. It is indeed part of the problem. A very big part of the problem.'
State opposition leader Michael O'Brien claimed Mr Andrews was 'pointing the finger' at the state's residents after his reference to people 'pretending' it was over.
'Daniel Andrews let the COVID genie out of the bottle with hotel quarantine bungles and now everyone's paying the price for it,' Mr O'Brien said.
The country's largest supermarket chain, Woolworths, said it had reimposed buying limits on items including pasta, vegetables and sugar after shoppers rushed to stores across Victoria state.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg said the Melbourne lockdown would cost the economy up to a billion Australian dollars (£550million) a week, telling public broadcaster ABC the burden would 'fall heavily on businesses'.
Experts have warned that people will have to get used to the 'new normal' of on-and-off restrictions as new clusters emerge and subside.
Professor Michael Kyrios, a clinical psychologist at Flinders University, warned that Victoria needed to brace for a 'coming mental health crisis' as a result.
'This will likely place the mental health care system in a precarious situation with very limited ability to mobilise resources in response to the increased incidence of mental illness arising from the Covidcrisis,' he said.
Health authorities say they have linked many of the Melbourne cases to hotels where residents returning from overseas were being quarantined.
Security guards are alleged to have breached infection protocols - allegedly even having sex with guests in isolation - prompting their replacement by prison staff.
The state government last week responded by banning new arrivals at Melbourne Airport for two weeks.
But there is also concern over the increased community transmission in Melbourne, with just 11 of Wednesday's new cases linked to known outbreaks.
Around 3,000 people in the city have already been locked inside their homes since Saturday after a cluster emerged in a high-rise public housing estate.
A total of 75 cases have been detected in the densely populated towers during a major testing blitz.
Long queues of cars were backed up at Victoria's border Wednesday after neighbouring New South Wales closed the boundary for the first time in the pandemic - essentially sealing off the state from the rest of Australia.
Hundreds of police officers and army troops were being deployed to enforce the closure of Victoria's border with New South Wales from midnight on Tuesday.
The state line is highly porous, stretching hundreds of miles. It is heavily used daily by commuters, school children and road freight.
People caught crossing the border without permission via any of the 55 roads, or several river and wilderness crossings, will face penalties including a fine of $11,000 (£6,000) and six months imprisonment.
The decision left residents of border towns scrambling to obtain permits to cross for work or other essential reasons, while holidaymakers were rushing to return home.
Australia has recorded almost 9,000 cases of COVID-19 and 106 deaths from the virus.
Australia's PM Scott Morrison said the federal government's medical advice agreed with the Victorian government that the move was necessary.
He said: 'I hope it isn't for that long. I hope it's for a shorter period as possible.'