Covid restrictions will loosen for Victorians on Friday, but harsh measures will stay in place across Melbourne, including travel and home visits. Here’s what the changes mean for you.
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Melbourne will ease out of tough lockdown restrictions from 11.59pm on Thursday, after Victoria recorded just one new local case of Covid overnight.
There are 83 Covid cases in total, with 68 now linked to local outbreaks.
Health Minister Martin Foley said the sole new case announced on Wednesday was directly linked to the Stratton Finance workplace in Port Melbourne.
1500 primary close contacts are now linked to the City of Whittlesea cluster and 2100 are linked to the Port Melbourne cluster.
There are fewer than 200 exposure sites listed online.
“This is a good day,” Acting Premier Merlino said. “Everyone should be proud of what we’ve all achieved together.
But he warned: “It isn’t over yet, and until we have widespread vaccination, this virus will still be with us.”
On Wednesday, Mr Merlino announced a range of new Covid rules would come into force across Victoria from Thursday.
NEW RULES FOR MELBOURNE
Metropolitan Melbourne will move to new restrictions from 11.59pm on Thursday, including:
• The five reasons to leave home will no longer apply
• An existing 10km limit will be increased to 25km
• The only reasons to go further than 25km will be for work, education, caregiving or getting a vaccination
• Still no visitors in homes
• Outdoor gatherings will be increased to a maximum of 10 people
• Schools will resume face-to-face learning
• Masks will no longer be required outdoors unless you cannot maintain a 1.5 metre distance
• Masks must still be worn in all indoor settings
• Funerals are limited to 50 people, weddings are limited to 10
• Religious ceremonies will be capped at 50 people inside
• Office workers will be able to return with 25 per cent or a cap of 10, whichever is greater
• 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
• Beauty therapy can also resume for treatments where masks can be worn
• Community sport can return to training, but not competition games
• Auctions can happen outdoors with a maximum of 50 people
• Some entertainment venues and community facilities will also open in line with density limits and additional caps
• Gyms, amusement parks, dance studios and nightclubs are set to remain shut
NEW RULES FOR REGIONAL VICTORIA
Regional Victorian restrictions will ease from 11.59pm on Thursday, including:
• Visitors to the home will be allowed with up to two adults per day, plus their dependents
• Public gatherings will be increased to 20 people
• Restaurants and cafes can open to a maximum of 150 for the venue for seated service, including up to 75 indoors
• Religious ceremonies will be capped at 150 for the venue, with no more than 75 people allowed indoors
• Funerals will be limited to 75 people while weddings will be limited to 20
• Offices will remain capped at 50 per cent
• Community sport is back for all ages, both for training and competition
• Regional Victorians can travel to Melbourne but they must abide by metropolitan restrictions
Mr Merlino said subject to public health advice, and epidemiological conditions in the coming week, the original divisions between metropolitan Melbourne and the rest of Victoria would come down from Thursday, June 17 and travel would open up around the state again.
“That would mean the (25km) travel restriction would go,” he said.
“There will be increased or easing of restrictions for venues, community sport, competition will resume … and also announcing where we can, further easing of restrictions for regional Victoria.”
QR CODES TO BECOME MANDATORY
Mr Merlino announced that QR check-ins would soon be made mandatory at all workplaces, with very limited exemptions.
“Previously it has only been mandatory for customer-facing services, but through this outbreak we have seen a number of cases occur in office settings, so we want to take the next step on this,” he said.
“We will be looking to consult with industry over the next few days around implementation and we will finalise the details next week ahead of the requirements coming into effect.”
SUTTON SAYS SITUATION STILL VOLATILE
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton thanked all Victorians who came forward to get tested but acknowledged Melbourne was still going through a difficult period, with restrictions remaining in place — and he stressed that the situation remained reasonably volatile
“It is not an easy period. We are still not back to normal,” he said.
“We still have some days to go. But again, with a minimum, safe restrictions in place, that is really to make sure that we continue to drive cases down, but to do so with be stepping out but allows us to live a more normal life.
“It remains a sacrifice.
“Kids home from school is bloody hard.”
Gyms will remain shut for the coming week, with Prof Sutton labelling them a “high-risk environment”.
“I don’t expect gyms to be closed for a long time from now on. I (am) asking gyms to make that sacrifice in the coming week,” he said.
Prof Sutton defended the new 25km bubble, saying he believed the current outbreak could have been prevented by travel limits.
“We know that people went to exposure sites and picked up the virus,” he said.
“If they had travelled from further away, the potential to spread even further from those sites would have been greater, no question.”
SEARCH YOUR 25KM TRAVEL BUBBLE
Weddings have also been identified as a source of significant transmission, Prof Sutton said.
“We know that the close interaction and the way you would want to celebrate a wedding makes it a not insignificant risk of transmission in those events,” he said.
“The imperative of a wedding is not the same as it is for people who are needing to attend a funeral.”
Meanwhile, Prof Sutton said he was “absolutely” confident in Victoria’s hotel quarantine scheme but said it was not a perfect system.
“The risk of transmission back into the community will remain and people who have got symptoms need to be aware of that and bear it in mind when they have a cold and think it can’t be COVID, but indeed it can be for the rare occasions,” he said.
When asked why 100 people in regional Victoria could go to a brothel but only two people could visit a private home, Prof Sutton said:
“Visitors to the home are a cumulative risk. We are talking about hundreds of thousands, millions of homes across Victoria.
“When you have a particular easing of a restriction for an indoor environment, the most high-risk environment indeed for coronavirus, you have to look at the cumulative effect at what it means to allow (visitors) across hundreds of thousands of homes …”
FIFTH LOCKDOWN NOT RULED OUT
Amid the “significant announcements” on Wednesday, acting Premier James Merlino did not rule out a fifth lockdown for Victoria.
“In terms of any further lockdowns – whether we are talking about Victoria, New South Wales, WA or SA – this is a global pandemic and it is impacting our nation,” he told reporters.
“The path to easing of restrictions completely and living a normal life is up to the successful rollout of the commonwealth‘s vaccination program and the construction and the operation of a purpose-built quarantine facility for our highest-risk people.
“That has always been the path through this pandemic.”
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Mr Merlino said not lifting the lockdown until Friday was about making sure authorities provided notice for people, in terms of what the easing of restrictions would mean.
“It is based on the public health advice,” he said.
“Where we can bring things forward, as we have done for the past 16 months, we do.
“Where we can provide further easings, we do.”
Prof Sutton said there were complex legal drafting matters to be done and that it was crucial it was not a sloppy process.
He said it was necessary to go through it with a fine-toothed comb to ensure the public health directions were appropriate and correct.
NEW LAWS TO BE INTRODUCED TO PARLIAMENT
Health advice used to justify ongoing restrictions and lockdowns would be made public under proposed new laws to be introduced to parliament on Wednesday.
Victoria’s latest Covid case is linked to the current outbreaks and has been in quarantine during their infectious period, putting the state on track to ease restrictions on Friday as planned.
A private members bill from the state opposition would force chief health officer Brett Sutton to hand over documents used to impose restrictions on Victorians.
It comes as the state government on Tuesday refused to detail the make-up of the expert panel advising on lockdown decisions.
Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the laws, if passed, would smash the veil of secrecy surrounding ongoing restrictions.
“Victorians are increasingly sceptical and frustrated at being told what to do but not given the information upon which these life-changing decisions are being made,” she said. “The Andrews Labor government must lift the veil of secrecy and that’s exactly what my bill will do.
“Victorians are smart and deserve to know the truth.”
Ms Crozier said the bill would ensure increased transparency and accountability of the decisions made by the chief health officer and the state government.
She said throughout the pandemic, the government had persistently refused to be open with Victorians about its decision-making process.
The bill would require the chief health officer to produce to parliament documents upon which the decision was based to make a direction or order that imposed restrictions, while a State of Emergency exists. It would also create a review mechanism to appeal against the production of certain documents if the chief health officer believed it contrary to public health interest.
A government spokeswoman said a range of factors and experts were relied on when considering public health responses. “Victoria’s senior public health team is made up of expert medical professionals and some of the leading public health physicians and infectious disease experts in the country including Professor Brett Sutton and Professor Allen Cheng,” she said.
It comes as just two cases of coronavirus were detected in the Victorian community on Tuesday.
Both cases are linked to current outbreaks, with the new infections including a child linked to the West Melbourne cluster, and a worker at the Arcare Maidstone aged care facility.
The Melbourne Convention and Exhibition Centre was listed as an exposure site after a positive case attended the South Wharf site between 3.15pm and 4pm on Monday June 7.
In a shocking twist, that person had been tested and, instead of isolating, had attempted to get vaccinated.
The convention centre was listed as a Tier 3 site, meaning anyone who visited during the time should be on alert for any symptoms.
Two primary close contacts were identified, but Mr Weimar said authorities were confident there was no wider public risk.
HOTEL QUARANTINE BEHIND DELTA OUTBREAK
Health authorities are desperately trying to work out how the highly infectious Delta variant was able to leak out of Victoria’s troubled hotel quarantine program.
Acting Premier James Merlino on Tuesday announced that genomic sequencing revealed an identical match between the strain at the centre of the current West Melbourne outbreak and a man who returned from Sri Lanka early last month.
While conceding that there had been another breach of hotel quarantine, authorities are still in the dark on exactly how the virus spread from the man to the community.
“I’m very surprised that (the virus) got out,” Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said.
Four theories are being probed, with the most likely being that the man infected hotel quarantine residents or staff, who then spread the virus further.
Prof Cheng said it was not yet known if there was more than one missing link.
It is Victoria’s eighth hotel quarantine breach, according to authorities, including the leaks from the Stamford Plaza and Rydges on Swanston Hotel, which sparked the state’s second wave that killed 801 people, infected thousands of others and plunged Melbourne into a 111-day lockdown.
Mr Merlino defended the state’s besieged program, saying “we do our absolute best in hotel quarantine”.
AUSSIES TO GET COVID VACCINATION CERTIFICATE
Australians who are fully vaccinated against Covid-19 will receive a certificate, paving the way for governments and businesses to enforce tough rules on those who are not inoculated.
The certificate will be available securely through the Medicare app – and eventually added to digital wallets on mobile devices – as the federal government pushes ahead with the plan to help incentivise Australians to get the jab.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison wants fully vaccinated Australians to be able to bypass state travel restrictions, although the national cabinet is yet to agree, while businesses could seek to use the certificate to withhold services from those who refuse the vaccine.
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