Restrictions set to ease in regional Victoria

Apart from the occasional takeaway latte sipper or masked dog walker, Sale's central business district was eerily quiet on Monday morning - miles away from the crowds that packed stores on Thursday after the lockdown was announced.

David Braithwaite

COVID restrictions are set to be eased across regional Victoria on Friday.

With no community transmission of the virus in regional Victoria this week, the news was announced on Wednesday morning by Acting Premier James Merlino, who said the government will use the following 24 hours to continue tracing and testing and confirm if the changes in restrictions can go ahead at midnight Thursday.

Meanwhile, the current restrictions will remain in place across Melbourne a further seven days.

“We need to be clear though, this strain of the virus means we can’t just snap back to where we were a week ago,” Mr Merlino said.

“We have to make sure it’s safe and that means moving a bit slower.

“I’ll say from the outset, this won’t be what everyone hoped for – but these are the responsible and proportional adjustments we can make now, while continuing to keep our regional communities safe.”

Travel restrictions and the rule relating to the five reasons to leave home will be lifted.

All year levels and all students will return to face-to-face schooling.

Public gatherings – catching up at a public place like the park or the beach – will be increased to 10 people.

Restaurants and cafés can reopen to a maximum of 50. Retail, beauty and personal care, entertainment venues and community facilities will also open in line with density limits.

Religious ceremonies and funerals will be capped at 50, weddings at 10.

Working in offices will be capped at 50 per cent.

Outdoor community sport will only be permitted for children, with adults only allowed to train.

Outdoor physical recreation and sport will be capped at 50 patrons per venue, with group sizes up to 10 people and density quotient of one person per four square metres. Indoor physical recreation and sport still cannot take place.

Visitors to homes still won’t be permitted, and masks must be worn inside.

Regional Victorians will be able to travel in regional Victoria. Melburnians will not.

Businesses which are open in regional Victoria but closed in Melbourne will be required to check the IDs of everyone they serve.

“I need to be upfront that even if all goes well, we won’t be able to have people from Melbourne travelling to regional Victoria over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. The risk of exporting the virus is just too high,” Mr Merlino said.

The government will expand QR requirements to make it mandatory in retail settings like supermarkets and shops. The 15-minute threshold will also be removed so anyone entering a shop or a café will need to check-in.

“I need to be really clear, stopping the spread – and getting our whole state back to normal – means knowing the restrictions that apply to you, and sticking to them,” Mr Merlino said.

“We’ve seen examples of people who left Melbourne, broke the rules and took the virus with them. We do not want that to happen again.

Based on advice from Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, the current restrictions will remain in place in Melbourne for a further seven days, with some small changes.

For Melbourne, there will still be only five reasons to leave home: shopping for food and supplies, authorised work and study, care and caregiving, exercise, and getting vaccinated.

People will be able to travel further for exercise and shopping, with an expanded 10 kilometre radius.

Year 11 and 12 students will return to face-to-face learning – that includes students in other year levels who are doing a Unit 3/4 VCE or VCAL subject, while that class is being taught.

A number of outdoor jobs will be added to the authorised list, such as landscaping, painting, installing solar panels, or letterboxing.

Other restrictions – including mask wearing – will stay the same.

Victoria has 60 local cases and more than 350 exposure sites, with Mr Merlino saying this variant of the virus is quicker and more contagious than others.

“To date, the approach has been to track the spread through friends, family and workmates. People spending time together for minutes and hours – not seconds,” he said.

“What we’re seeing now is something else – something even more serious. At least one in 10 current cases have caught this virus from a stranger.

“People brushing against each other in a small shop. Getting a take-away coffee from the same café. Being in the same place, at the same time for mere moments.

“Just walking past someone you’ve never met can mean the virus is jumping to a whole new network.

“And when you don’t know someone – you don’t know their name or where they live – you’re looking for one person in 6.6 million.”

Mr Merlino said the best way to stop the virus was vaccination.

Mr Merlino also announced the government will be extending financial support to businesses, with an additional $209 million in grants.