Millions of Victorians will finally be let out of lockdown on Friday, but crippling restrictions will remain in place despite just one new Covid-19 case.
The single infection was traced to existing cases and had already been in precautionary quarantine, meaning they are unlikely to have infected others.
Despite the low infection rates, Melburnians will still be banned from having guests at their home, and even those in the regions will only be permitted to have two people over.
Acting Premier James Merlino on Wednesday said metropolitan Melbourne will move to ‘most of the same settings’ currently in place across regional Victoria, with masks still be mandatory indoors and people encouraged to work from home.
Those living in the city will now be allowed to leave home for whatever reason they want, with shops, restaurants and cafes permitted to open with strict capacity limits.
The existing 10km limit will be increased to 25km, meaning the only reasons to go further than 25km will be for work, education, caregiving or getting a vaccination.
The 25km travel limit for Melburnians is likely to reek havoc on regional businesses who rely on a major influx from the city over the upcoming long weekend.
Millions in Melbourne will finally be released from strict lockdown on Friday but many restrictions will remain (pictured, a woman in the city on Tuesday)
Melbourne Restaurants and cafes can reopen for seated service with up to 100 people per venue and a maximum of 50 inside
Masks will no longer be required outdoors, but remain mandatory inside and when shopping, in offices or on public transport
Those living in the city will now be allowed to leave home for whatever reason they want, with shops, restaurants and cafes permitted to open with strict capacity limits
Mt Buller, Victoria’s biggest ski resort, is a third hour drive away from the city and is usually packed over the Queen’s Birthday.
‘Travel into regional Victoria still remains a no go for now. We are also still not in a position to be able to have visitors in our homes, but outdoor gatherings will be increased to a maximum of 10 people,’ Mr Merlino said.
‘We all know how fragile this thing is. We’ve seen how easily it can take hold. And if we allow complacency to creep back even a little, we could lose everything we’ve worked so hard to protect.’
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said visitors are still banned from homes because they are a ‘cumulative risk’ of spreading the virus.
‘We are talking about hundreds of thousands, millions of homes across Victoria,’ he said.
‘When you have a particular easing of a restriction for an indoor environment, the most high risk environment for coronavirus, you have to look at the cumulative effect at what it means to allow two people… across hundreds of thousands of homes.’
Prof Sutton said restrictions across the state can’t ease at midnight tonight, and have to wait until 11.59pm on Thursday, due to ‘complex legal’ issues.
‘There is complex legal drafting to be done that needs to be measured against all of the charter considerations for each and every charter obligation that is in play with restrictions,’ he said.
NEW RULES FOR MELBOURNE AND VICTORIA FROM FRIDAY 00.01
What you can do:
Travel 25km from your house
Have an outdoor gathering with up to 10 people
Go to school for face-to-face learning
Not wear masks indoors
Go to a funeral with maximum 50 people and weddings at 10
Go to restaurants and cafes to reopen, with a maximum 100 people outside and 50 people inside
Go to retail shops, with a one person per four square metre density limit
Get your hair done with a mask on
Play community sport with 50 people outdoors
What you can’t do
Have a party, stand at bars, go to a nightclub or concert
Have any guests round to your house
Go to the gym
Travel further than 25km from your home unless in exceptional circumstances
Regional Victoria – already subject to the above rules, but with extra easing
Visit another home, with a cap of two adults per household
Gather in pubic with up to 20 people
Go to a restaurant or cafes with up to 150 people seated outdoors or 75 indoors
Attend a religious ceremony, with a cap of 150 people outdoors or 75 indoors
Attend a funerals with a cap of 75 and weddings with a maximum of 20
‘And to make sure that it is not a sloppy process, we have to go through with a fine tooth comb to make sure that every single drafted piece with the public health directions are appropriate and correct.
‘We have needed to see how the cases have emerged over the last few days to have that level of confidence. You can’t flip a coin and say I hope with a fifty-fifty chance that we can get control of this.’
Prof Sutton said the prospect of ongoing transmission or the return of either the Kappa variant or the Delta variant is ‘pretty awful’.
‘We are looking to snuff it out completely. We have to take that path. So, you have to have sufficient confidence that the measures in place and the timing and easing of them do that,’ he said.
Schools will be able to resume face-to-face learning from Friday.
Masks will no longer be required outdoors, but remain mandatory inside and when shopping, in offices or on public transport.
Restaurants and cafes can reopen for seated service with up to 100 people per venue and a maximum of 50 inside.
Retail can reopen in line with density limits of one person per four square metres, while hairdressing, beauty and personal care can resume but only for services where masks can be kept on.
Funerals and religious ceremonies are limited to 50 people, while weddings are capped at 10 people.
In regional Victoria, from 11:59pm on Thursday night, public gatherings will be increased to 20 people.
Restaurants and cafes can open to a maximum of 150 in the venue for seated service, including up to 75 allowed indoors.
Funerals will be limited to 75 people, while weddings will be limited to 20.
Shops, cafes and restaurants will open with capacity limits from Friday (pictured, a quiet Melbourne street on Wednesday)
Those in Melbourne will still be banned from having visitors to their homes (pictured, the city on Tuesday)
Mr Merlino said the further easing of restrictions next Thursday will be based on public health advice.
‘The expectation is that from Thursday night next week we will be in a position where we can bring Melbourne and regional Victoria closer together. That would mean the travel restriction, in terms of the 25km, that would go,’ he said.
‘Bringing Melbourne and regional Victoria further together and also announcing where we can, further easing of restrictions for regional Victoria.’
Prof Sutton said it had been an ‘awfully painful period’ and authorities had no other option to bring the outbreak under control.
‘I have always had in mind that we need to do what is required to make sure that we get back down to zero,’ he said.
‘There is really no alternative. Our national strategy of aggressive suppression is there for a reason.’
Some Melbourne businesses such as gyms, amusement parks, dance studios and nightclubs will remain closed, on health advice.
Chapel Street Precinct General Manager Chrissie Maus said the fact people can’t go to the gym ‘only exacerbates the mental health situation’.
‘I find it extraordinary that you can go for a Parma ‘n’ Pot before you can step foot inside a health and fitness facility,’ she said.
‘The fitness sector has led the way with outstanding hygiene standards and gone above and beyond to ensure the safety of their clients.
Schools in Melbourne will be able to resume face-to-face learning from Friday
The new rules still keep Melburnians banned from travelling more than 25km from their homes – forcing many to cancel holiday plans for the long weekend (pictured, the locked down city on Wednesday)
‘While the additional support and openings are much needed and welcomed, what we must see is an expedited clear roadmap that does not apply the heavy restrictions announced today that Victorian businesses have to operate under.
‘It’s simply inequitable for many. Most businesses burnt through their reserves through the 2020 lockdowns and any little they may have had left was invested in reopening as restrictions were lifted last year,’ said Chrissie Maus Chapel Street Precinct General Manager.’
Mr Merlino said a further $8.36 million would be added to the state government’s lockdown package to support businesses that cannot reopen yet.
Victorian tracers are working on the case of a man in his 40s, who returned from Sri Lanka on May 8 and is now considered to be the likely original source of the Delta strain that spread across Melbourne.
Genomic sequencing showed his infection was identical to one of two families linked to the North Melbourne Primary School, which has emerged as the epicentre of the West Melbourne outbreak.
Tracers were trying to establish the link between the man and that outbreak, with no obvious breach of infection prevention control protocols.
The ‘Delta’ Covid strain outbreak in West Melbourne has been linked to a man who stayed at the Holiday Inn (pictured) in May
Meanwhile, the absence of Premier Dan Andrews continues to hang over Victorians after he suffered five broken ribs and a fractured T7 vertebrae
Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said there were four main theories, including that the man transmitted the virus to a staff member while in transit or to a fellow guest inside one of the hotels.
It may have then entered the community.
Emma Cassar, the head of COVID-19 Quarantine Victoria, said the man also mistakenly opened his room door soon after entering hotel quarantine, but she did not believe the incident was responsible for the virus escaping.
Victoria’s deadly second wave of coronavirus in 2020 was sparked by leaks in hotel quarantine.
It led to a major overhaul of the hotel quarantine system after Melbourne spent 112 days in lockdown.
‘You just wonder has the government really learned anything from the mistakes that were made last year,’ Mr O’Brien said.
The revamped program restarted in December, only for it to be paused in February as a leak from the Holiday Inn grew to nearly 25 cases and triggered a three-day lockdown.
There are 83 active cases of Covid across the state, but only three requiring hospital treatment and none in intensive care.
Some 28,485 Victorians were tested on Tuesday and 19,533 received a vaccine dose at state-run sites.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews (right) and his wife Catherine Andrews. They had been staying in Sorrento when the Premier took a fall
Daniel Andrews in a tweet on April 18. It was the last time anyone saw him until this week
Meanwhile, the absence of Premier Dan Andrews continues to hang over Victorians after he suffered five broken ribs and a fractured T7 vertebrae after falling on ‘wet and slippery’ stairs at a holiday home on the Mornington Peninsula, south of Melbourne on March 9.
Media experts have told Daily Mail Australia it was more than likely Mr Andrews had embarked on an extended break in a tactical play to rebuild his image to Victorians, who had him earmarked as a ‘control freak’.
‘The problem is they let him sit on the sidelines too long, and now it’s come back to bite them,’ a source said.
The Premier’s office was bombarded with inquiries, which fueled speculation something massive had transpired after the media team took six hours to go public with the fall.
Mr Andrews was later transferred to the intensive care unit at The Alfred hospital.