Reins loosen a little on COVID restrictions

Masks will still need to be worn indoors, except in the home.

THE metro-regional border will come down, and COVID-19 rules across the state will be eased again, after a suite of new restrictions were announced today.
From 11.59pm tomorrow night, public gatherings will increased to 50 people in regional Victoria, while up to five people (plus dependants) will be permitted to visit the home.
Masks are still required indoors across the state, and outdoors where social distancing can’t be maintained.
In regional areas, up to 300 people can attend religious ceremonies, and there can be 100 at funerals and 50 at weddings.
Up to 300 people can play sport indoors now, and 1000 outdoors, with spectators allowed within the venue limits.
Large hospitality venues can host up to 300 people for seated service only, with maximum
group sizes of 50 — subject to the one person per four metre rule.
Venues less than 600 square metres in size can host up to 150 patrons, provided a staff member confirms patrons have a ‘green tick’ check-in before entry.
Small venues can have up to 25 patrons before the density quotient applies.
Those with school holiday plans or bookings will be happy to know the metro-regional travel ban has now been lifted, allowing Melburnians to travel to regional Victoria and vice-versa.
Local accommodation venues can take bookings from single households, plus five adults and dependents.
People still can’t visit aged care or other residential facilities, except for end-of-life reasons and other excepted reasons such as essential care and support, but prospective residents can visit with one other person accompanying.
The public health team has recommended slighter stronger restrictions for Melbourne.
While its 25km limit has been lifted, Melbourne will adopt most of the restrictions regional Victoria shifted to last week.
Melburnians travelling to the snow this season must also get a COVID test within 72 hours of departing for Victoria’s alpine resorts, and receive a negative result.
While spectators are still banned from the footy, a crowd of up to 7000 residents local to the Geelong area can attend the Geelong versus Western Bulldogs game at Cardinia Park  on Friday night, provided they are members of either club.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said despite the border coming down, regional Victoria’s rules differed from metropolitan Melbourne’s in recognition that there hadn’t been transmission regionally.
“… we are opening up the state, and there will be people travelling from metro Melbourne as you’d expect into regional Victoria, so we still need some of those constraints in terms of the size of gatherings in various settings in various locations to be able to manage the risk should a case occur there,” he said on Wednesday.
“Regional Victoria is in a better position than metro Melbourne.
“Regional Victoria has not had cases in recent weeks — for some areas, for months.
“Metro Melbourne had cases today, and really, most days in the last few weeks, with new exposure sites being generated, with new cases coming forward who were not aware they were cases, who were infectious out the community.
“We have to work on the basis that we may yet still have cases in metro Melbourne, and potentially elsewhere, who are infectious, who don’t know they are cases, and who move about, and so these restrictions are a reflection of being able to manage that risk of transmission.”
Dr Sutton said the testing requirement for those travelling to the snow at this point applied to alpine resort regions, but didn’t think it was necessary to extend the rule to those visiting the regions.
“It’s not that ski fields are the only place where transmission can occur, but we want that extra level of precaution for those settings,” he said.
“The industry has to be protected — we need to make sure there are no cases that go up onto the mountain.
“Even though the number in metro Melbourne may be tiny, a single case who’s infectious that’s up on the mountain could be a potential super spreading event.
“It’s essentially how it spread across Europe in March of last year.
“It has been demonstrated in resorts — Aspen, Whistler, other west-coast Canadian towns — where significant clusters have occurred.
“Indoors, post-exertion, no mask wearing, with strangers, and that combination of cold and humidity that all come together to make it a high risk environment.
“It’s a small thing to help manage that significant risk.”
Dr Sutton said at the moment easing restrictions was a day-by-day prospect, with a heightened risk of transmission right through winter.
“Winter will remain a high-risk period while we’ve got 3.5 per cent of Victorians fully vaccinated, or thereabouts,” he said.
“We need everyone to be vaccinated before we can really manage that winter risk.
“We know people huddle indoors, and we know people will have coughs and colds, and might dismiss it, so we do need to just bear in mind that the risk will be quite high through the winter period until we get high vaccination coverage.
“The snap back to COVID-normal — we’re not at that stage.”
Acting Premier James Merlino said depending on public health advice, he expected to be back in one week to make more announcements in relation to easing restrictions.
“We have to ease in a way that is safe, and we are making positive progress in the announcements that we are making for both regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne,” he said.
Mr Merlino stressed the most important thing people could do was get COVID-19 tested for even the slightest COVID-19 symptoms.
“As we head deeper into winter, this becomes more and more important,” he said.
“Don’t assume that a sore throat or a cough [are] just the symptoms of a cold — you’ve got to find out and make sure, and the only way to do that is to go and get tested.
“That might be the difference between getting on top of an outbreak, and having it get out of control.”
Dr Sutton also urged people to get tested.
“Anyone who is symptomatic, at any time, including if you’ve been tested maybe a couple weeks earlier, to still get tested again to make sure we find every single case that’s down there,” he said.
“Those cases that have been found in the last week or two are by virtue of people testing because they’ve been symptomatic.”
Fifty-four COVID-19 cases were still active in Victoria at the time of print, with no new cases acquired locally yesterday. Another announcement in relation to easing restrictions is expected to be made next Wednesday.