Vic lockdown ends, govt negotiates powers

·3-min read

Victoria has emerged from its "circuit-breaker" lockdown, while negotiations continue over an extension to the government's state of emergency powers.

The state recorded just one new case of COVID-19 on Thursday, a returned international traveller in hotel quarantine, following 30,261 tests.

"That's basically 70,000 tests over the last couple of days," an upbeat Premier Daniel Andrews told reporters on Thursday.

"Every Victorian should be proud of that. I'm proud of them and I'm very, very grateful."

Schools, offices, restaurants and shops reopened following the five-day lockdown, which was called last week amid fears the highly-infectious UK strain of COVID-19 had spread from a quarantine hotel into the community.

The lockdown meant many businesses missed out on a busy weekend of trade, which included Valentine's Day and Lunar New Year.

The premier said a support package for those businesses will be unveiled "early next week".

A total of 19 confirmed cases have been connected to the outbreak, which can be traced back to a family of three staying on the third floor at the Holiday Inn at Melbourne Airport.

At least 15 cases have been shown to have the B117 variant through genomic testing.

About 3400 close contacts of positive cases remain in isolation, with Health Minister Martin Foley warning some may have the virus.

"There is still some way to go but so far so good," he told reporters.

The state's testing chief Jeroen Weimar said officials had doorknocked more than a thousand close contacts in recent days to check on their welfare and to ensure they were self-isolating.

Two or three people were found to not be in the right place, he said. None have been fined as they provided "legitimate explanations".

A number of restrictions, including mandatory masks indoors and out when physical distancing isn't possible, as well as gathering limits, will remain until February 26, when the incubation period for most close contacts ends.

Meanwhile, the government is continuing to negotiate with crossbenchers over its plan to extend its state of emergency powers for a further nine months.

Victoria is the only state that caps the maximum length of time a state of emergency can remain in force, with the current powers due to expire on March 15.

Mr Andrews said the extension was about having "legal certainty" for public health measures such as hotel quarantine, mask-wearing and the state's travel permit system.

"We're just now entering the beginning of the end - not the end of this," he said.

"That can't come fast enough, and we're all working as hard as we can to deliver that outcome. But none of us have the luxury of pretending it's over because we desperately want it to be."

Reason Party leader MP Fiona Patten said on Wednesday she would vote against the bill and urged the government to bring forward legislation specific to the pandemic.

It's understood she met with Mr Andrews on Wednesday and will undergo further negotiations with Mr Foley on Thursday afternoon.

Opposition Leader Michael O'Brien said he willing to sit down with the premier to draft COVID-specific laws, or negotiate a month-by-month extension.

"Daniel Andrews does not need and he certainly doesn't deserve a blank cheque to keep Victoria in a state of emergency for the rest of 2021," he said.

The bill is expected to pass Victoria's upper house by Friday, where Labor holds a commanding majority.

It will be debated in the upper house next month.

Ms Patten, Greens leader Samantha Ratnam and Animal Justice Party MP Andy Meddick voted in favour of extending the state of emergency for six months back in September.