Victoria poised to ease lockdown but restrictions set to remain

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Victoria poised to ease lockdown but restrictions set to remain

By Paul Sakkal

For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.

Victorians are poised to be released from the state’s strict lockdown at 11.59pm on Tuesday, but tight public health restrictions will remain in place until the state’s Delta outbreak is fully extinguished.

Castigating “selfish” anti-lockdown protesters who roamed the city at the weekend, Premier Daniel Andrews said on Sunday the state was on track to drop stay-at-home orders because all of Sunday’s 11 cases were isolated for their infectious period – the first time this metric has been achieved during the current outbreak.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews at Sunday’s press conference.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews at Sunday’s press conference. Credit:Chris Hopkins

“It’s my hope that we’re able to ease some of the restrictions that we’re living under,” Mr Andrews said. “Things are strong, things are solid. But things can come from nowhere in those next couple of days.”

However, he said the situation in NSW remained so bad that Victorians stuck there would be blocked from returning home for longer than the initially forecast two weeks.

NSW announced 141 new cases on Sunday, including at least 38 who were in the community while infectious, and two deaths. Among them was a woman in her 30s with no pre-existing medical conditions, who died at Royal Prince Alfred Hospital. She was the youngest person to have died from COVID-19 in NSW and the eighth death linked to the current outbreak.

NSW Health’s director of health protection, Jeremy McAnulty, said a teenager was one of the 43 people currently in intensive care in NSW, and seven others were in their 20s, reinforcing the altered advice from Australia’s immunisation advisory group that Sydney residents aged over 18 should now be vaccinated, including with AstraZeneca if that was most readily available.

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Two Victorian ministers, speaking anonymously to make predictions about the lockdown, expressed confidence that rules would ease as planned on Tuesday night. “We said we wanted all cases to be in iso and we’ve got there ... but [public health rules] won’t go back to normal quickly,” one said.

Authorities are waiting on three key sets of information to determine whether it is safe to open up as scheduled. Two of these are test results from exposure sites – the Prahran Market and the Lacrosse apartment building in Docklands – which emerged as sites of concern late in the lockdown. The third condition to be met is the results of tests from the many thousands of Victorians who are about to complete two weeks of isolation.

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If unexpected positive results emerge from these day-13 results, the lockdown could be extended because contact tracers would then need days to chase down new chains of transmission.

When Victoria emerged from last month’s lockdown, the state government kept a number of clamps on, including imposing a 25-kilometre travel rule, capping office occupancy at 25 per cent, banning visitors at homes, keeping gyms shuttered and limiting hospitality venues to 100 patrons with a maximum of 50 indoors. Mr Andrews has not commented on what the regime might look like this week, saying it was too early to judge.

After last week putting public pressure on the nation’s vaccine advisory group to change its advice, Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Sunday welcomed the group’s fresh encouragement for younger people to take the AstraZeneca jab. He acknowledged the shifting advice on the locally made vaccine had made many Australians reluctant to take it, but reminded the public it was a “powerful vaccine that helped saved lives”.

More than 100,000 doses were delivered nationally on Saturday, Mr Morrison said, a record for that day of the week, and more than 1 million were administered in the past six days, a figure Mr Morrison said was evidence of the program beginning to “hit its straps”.

Also on Sunday, senior federal sources indicated the Morrison government was working on a new economic support package. While the government has ruled out a further round of early release of superannuation, it is considering a potential boost to some income-support payments for affected workers and additional assistance for small businesses. But the Prime Minister all but ruled out a call from NSW Treasurer Dominic Perottet on Saturday for the JobKeeper payment to be reinstated.

The Victorian Premier reiterated his call for a “ring of steel” to be erected around metropolitan Sydney, which was rejected by the NSW and federal governments last week, to prevent infected people travelling into regional NSW and potentially into Victoria.

“That’s not going to happen. So we’ll just have to make sure that the Murray [River, which separates the states] and our permit system is as hard as it possibly can be. That’ll be inconvenient for a lot of people,” Mr Andrews said, adding the outbreak in NSW could take months to control.

Of the 11 Victorian cases announced on Sunday, four were linked to Ms Frankie’s restaurant in Cremorne, three were associated with Trinity Grammar School, and the others were household contacts linked to Bacchus Marsh Grammar, Young and Jackson’s pub and the Westgate Tunnel construction project.

COVID-19 commander Jeroen Weimar reminded the more than 20,000 close contacts still serving their isolation periods that they needed to receive a phone call and written confirmation from the Health Department before they were formally cleared to leave quarantine.

There are now seven Victorians in hospital and two in intensive care out of the 180 cases in the outbreak. In NSW, there are 141 people in hospital with COVID-19.

Mr Andrews took an aggressive stance against thousands of protesters who marched on the streets of Melbourne and Sydney on Saturday to protest against public health directives. But he said it was highly improbable that an infected person was among the crowd in Melbourne because all of the state’s cases had been linked to outbreaks and the virus was not spreading unchecked in the community.

Asked if his repeated labelling of the group as “selfish” and “shameful” would only fuel further protests, Mr Andrews said he would not be “cuddling up to these people”.

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“I speak plainly ... and that’s what I believe the vast majority of Victorians want,” he said. “If calling it out for the appalling behaviour that it is offends them – tough. They’ll need to get over that.”

NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian said she was “disgusted” at the protests.

“Each of those people who protested illegally – I’m sure have loved ones. They are going to go home and risk passing that virus onto the most closest people to them,” she said.

NSW Police received more than 5000 tip-offs and identified more than 200 people who took part in the Sydney protest, with 90 fines issued by Sunday afternoon.

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