Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has outlined a tentative roadmap for Melbourne to emerge from suffocating Stage 4 lockdown restrictions but residents will have to wait a little longer than expected.
In a much-anticipated announcement Sunday afternoon, Mr Andrews detailed what needs to happen for restrictions to be relaxed in Melbourne, and Stage 3 lockdown rules to be eased for regional Victoria.
Sadly for those in the country’s second biggest city, lockdown will persist beyond next Sunday.
Initially expected to end by September 13, Stage 4 restrictions will continue for at least two more weeks.
The curfew will be pushed back to 9pm and exercise allowances will be increased to two hours, up from one hour.
The government will also allow people who live alone to create “household bubbles” to visit a chosen loved one.
Outdoor gatherings of two people will be allowed for two hours and playgrounds will re-open during the next fortnight.
“We can't run out of lockdown. We have to take steady and safe steps out of lockdown,” Mr Andrews said Sunday.
“If we open up too fast then we have a very high likelihood, a very high likelihood, that we are not really opening up at all. We are just beginning a third wave,” he said.
Curfew to stay until at least October 26
Beyond the two week extension, the expectation is restrictions will be loosened as the metro area enters a “second step” of easing.
“The second step, from the 28th of September, subject to public health advice and subject to the average daily cases being between 30 and 50 .... public gatherings [will be] increased to five people from two household,” Mr Andrews said.
From September 28, up to five people from a maximum of two households can meet outdoors for social interaction.
Childcare centres will be allowed to reopen without permits and workers across construction and manufacturing can return to their jobs, along with landscape and maintenance workers who operate alone.
Commencement of the second step requires an average daily case rate of 30 to 50 cases in metropolitan Melbourne over the previous 14 days. There were 63 new cases announced on Sunday.
A third step with the target date of October 26 will see the curfew no longer apply.
Melburnians will be freed from the lockdown by that date if the average number of new cases falls below five and there are less than five unknown source cases.
“Leaving home there will be no restrictions on reasons or distances travelled, public gatherings will increase to 10 people outdoors, you will be able to have visitors at home, up to five visitors from another nominated household,” Mr Andrews said.
“Much like the singles bubble there will be a household bubble.”
Retail and hairdressing will reopen at this stage as will hospitality, albeit predominantly outdoor seated service. Future announcements will be made about more support for businesses.
“We will have more to say about that following further consultation and again as the numbers present,” Mr Andrews said.
The Australian Retailers Association (ARA) welcomed the roadmap out of restrictions but said the protracted delays to retail reopening – with a further seven week delay – will be a death sentence for many Melbourne retailers.
Outdoor gatherings of up to 50 people by November 23
A final step from an expected date of November 23 will see outdoor public gatherings of up to 50 people, and an allowance of 20 visitors for household gatherings.
At this point “weddings and funerals would return to normal,” Mr Andrews said.
Gyms will also be prevented from opening until this final step.
The premier stressed these settings could be subject to change. “Essentially, each of these steps are less than we would like to do. We would all like to open up as quickly as possible,” he said.
The graph below shows the number of daily new cases recorded in the state, which would need to fall further and stay suppressed to avoid a third wave, modelling shows. If daily new case averages remained at 25 per day, there would be a more than 60 per cent chance of lockdowns being required again at Christmas, Mr Andrews said.
Regional Victoria opening up sooner
Outside of Melbourne metro, those in regional Victoria can expect to be back to normal much sooner and will enter the second step from Midnight on September 13, meaning five people from a maximum of two households can meet outdoors for social interaction.
“We think that regional Victoria will essentially be able to move to the third step quite soon. It will be, perhaps, a matter of weeks before regional Victoria can move to a very different range of settings compared to metropolitan Melbourne,” Mr Andrews said Sunday.
“That would mean more shops open, more people back at work, people still working from home in some instances, but relatively normal, certainly compared to the situation at metropolitan Melbourne will have to be in for a longer period of time.”
There are currently just 98 active cases in regional Victoria where restrictions are currently in Stage 3.
“For regional Victoria, those numbers are low and they need to be lower,” Mr Andrews said.
In line with advice from the Chief Health Officer, from 11:59pm 13 September, some restrictions will change. Roadmaps have been developed for Regional Vic & Metro Melbourne that outline how we are moving to COVID Normal.— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) September 6, 2020
Info on the changes:https://t.co/XKmHRQaRH2 #COVID19Vic pic.twitter.com/T8uYpq29JR
Third wave could be ‘more devastating’
There are currently 283 Victorians in hospital with 19 of those receiving intensive care and 16 of those are on a ventilator, Mr Andrews said.
On Saturday as details of the plan were being finalised, Mr Andrews sought to temper expectations as the state recorded another 76 daily cases.
“No-one is really advocating to open and be open for just a few weeks. And if you opened at these levels, that is exactly what would happen,” he said.
“It would be five minutes of sunshine and then a third wave that arguably will be even more devastating than the second. We just have to find a way to be as steadfast as this virus, it is stubborn.”
On Saturday, when Prof Brett Sutton was asked if there was a particular low number the government was striving for, he was equally pragmatic in his response.
“We have to live with the reality of what we can achieve. We know we're doing absolutely everything. If we get to a low number and it doesn't disappear, we will just work to keep that number low in the long term,” he said.
“But we have to get to a number that is sustainable to suppress in the long term.
“We are on the winning stretch now, there's no question. This is the last gasp of the virus, and we need to work harder than maybe we've ever done before to make sure that that last gasp is, indeed, the last one.”
Do you have a story tip? Email: firstname.lastname@example.org.