Regional Victoria’s lockdown set to ease as early as next week

Local businesses have had to adapt to the constraints of lockdown, with this sign in the window of Flowers on Johnson directing customers to phone orders.

Sarah Luke

LOCKDOWN restrictions in regional Victoria may be eased as early as next week.

During today’s press conference, Premier Daniel Andrews announced the state government may have some positive news for regional Victoria next week, given its differing epidemiology.

“If we just put Shepparton to the side for one moment, and think about the regional Victoria, we think we will be able to end the lockdown in regional Victoria next week,” he said.

“There will be an opening up, but there will be significant restrictions, substantial restrictions, and no-one, other than those who are authorised, will be able to go to regional Victoria from metropolitan Melbourne.

“The case numbers in regional Victoria are very different to that which is occurring in metropolitan Melbourne.

“Today is not the day to make those announcements – that will be done in due course.

“Exactly when, we’ll confirm as soon as we can.”

Mr Andrews said for the time being, the lockdown that was scheduled to end tomorrow would be extended because of increasing community transmission and the continued number of unlinked cases popping up across the state.

Almost all of the current lockdown restrictions will remain in place statewide for now, until 70 per cent of Victorians have had at least one dose of vaccine – estimated to be about September 23.

Until then, the only two restrictions which will change involve playgrounds reopening, and allowances around in-home care expanding.

At 11.59pm tomorrow, playgrounds will re-open to children aged under 12, with only one parent or carer allowed to supervise.

Adults cannot remove their masks to eat or drink, and must check-in with a QR code.

In-home care – such as babysitters – will also be expanded to school aged children, but only if both parents are authorised workers.

This means until September 23, 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.

Other restrictions – including mask wearing – also remain the same.

In announcing the decision, Premier Daniel Andrews said when 70 per cent of Victorians had had at least one vaccine dose, the government would look to ease restrictions further.

At that point, the five kilometre radius would expand to 10km – so exercise and shopping can take place up to 10km from home.

Victorians will be able to exercise for an extra hour – for up to three hours per day, and outdoor personal training will be allowed with up to two people, plus the trainer.

Outdoor communal gym equipment and skateparks will reopen.

The Premier said he would examine other outdoor recreational activities that can be done safely during the next three weeks.

Private inspections of unoccupied premises for a new purchase or end of lease will be permitted, but only one household may attend at a time, with the agent staying outdoors during the inspection.

Victoria’s construction workforce will also be able to increase to 50 per cent when 90 per cent of its workers have received at least one vaccine dose, subject to epidemiology at the time.

Up to five staff will be able to work on site at entertainment venues to broadcast performances.

“I want to be really straight with people,” Mr Andrews said.

“It’s not like two weeks after that, there’s going to be a whole lot of other things that can be added on and two weeks after that, another list of things that can be eased.

“These will be the settings that we all have to live with for a period of time until we reach not just first dose vaccination thresholds, but second dose vaccination thresholds, as outlined in the National Cabinet plan – the 70 per cent two dose, and 80 per cent two dose.”

To ensure senior students sitting Year 12 exams are ready for exams, from Tuesday, September 7, until Friday September 17, there will be a priority vaccination program, giving VCE students, their teachers and examiners priority booking access at state-run clinics.

Students and teachers will need to book an appointment from Monday, September 6.

The General Achievement Test, or GAT, will be held on October 5.

There will be no return to face-to-face learning in term three, and the Premier said he would have more to say about term four next week.

He said if he eased restrictions today and let the virus run free, the hospital system would be overrun, front-line staff would be placed under too much pressure and people would die.

“The Chief Health Officer’s advice to me and the government has changed, fundamentally changed,” Mr Andrews said.

“We will not see these case numbers go down. They are going to go up.

“The question is by how many, and by how fast.

“What we must do is suppress case numbers sufficient to buy us time to get people vaccinated.

“We are in for a difficult time over these coming weeks.

“It is simply not possible to make wholesale changes, to have a freedom day, or an opening up day, in metropolitan Melbourne in the next few weeks.”

“The Burnet Institute has estimated that what we’ve all done, what we’ve all given these last four weeks has basically prevented around 6000 cases of this virus.

“That means that every Victorian has also prevented around 600 people being admitted to hospital.

“No-one gets admitted to hospital with coronavirus because they are mildly unwell. They are all very unwell. Some are acutely unwell and in need of intensive care.

“Once we get to 6000, the numbers just keep doubling and doubling and doubling again.”

Today, 120 new cases of COVID-19 were announced – 64 linked to existing outbreaks, and 56 under investigation.

Only 20 were in isolation during their infectious period.

That brings the total number of active cases in Victoria to 900.

There were two deaths yesterday – a woman in her 40s, and another in her 60s.

There are 58 cases in hospital, with 21 in intensive care, and 14 on ventilators.

The Premier said based on current vaccination booking figures, the state was set to exceed the government’s target of one million vaccines administered over five weeks.

The state has limited Pfizer appointments because of supply, but there are 72,745 Astra Zeneca appointments available across Victoria during the next three weeks.

Those with any questions or concerns about Pfizer or Astra Zeneca can speak to a GP, pharmacist or to a senior and experienced immuniser.

All Victorians are encouraged where possible to book their vaccination appointments by clicking here or by phoning the Coronavirus hotline on 1800 675 398.