Melbourne will come out of lockdown on Thursday night but travel from the city to regional areas is a “no go” for another week, after the state recorded one new case of Covid-19.
The two-week lockdown will end at 11.59pm on Thursday but Melburnians must stay within 25km of home, meaning travelling for the Queen’s Birthday long weekend is not allowed.
Students will be allowed to return to the classroom on Friday and restaurants and cafes will be allowed to have up to 100 customers for sit-down service, provided no more than 50 are indoors.
Masks will still be mandatory indoors but will no longer be required to be worn outdoors where there is enough room to stand 1.5 metres apart.
Outdoor gatherings of 10 people will be allowed, retail businesses can operate with some capacity restrictions, offices can return to 25% capacity, funerals can have 50 mourners and indoor religious ceremonies 50 worshipers, and weddings will be capped at 10 people.
Beauty services will also be able to operate provided customers can wear masks and community sporting groups will be allowed to hold training.
But gyms will stay closed and visitors to homes will not be allowed.
The eased restrictions mean that Melbourne will no longer qualify as a coronavirus hotspot – so the federal Covid disaster payment will not be extended past Thursday, even though some people, such as those who work in gyms or nightclubs, will not be able to return to work.
All workers will also be required to check into their workplace using a QR code – a response to one of the largest clusters in this outbreak being linked to a Port Melbourne accounting firm.
In regional Victoria, restrictions will ease further to allow two guests per day in the home, outdoor gatherings of 20 people, an increase on the number of customers at a restaurant or cafe to 154 people, with no more than 75 indoors, funerals increasing to 75 people and weddings increasing to 20.
The acting premier, James Merlino, said it was a “good day”.
“But we know this isn’t over yet, and until we have widespread vaccination across Victoria and across our country, the virus will still be with us,” Merlino said. “So we can’t let complacency creep in, and I am asking everyone to keep doing the right thing.”
He said the ban on travelling to regional Victoria should lift on Thursday next week, depending on public health advice.
Further restrictions in Melbourne will be eased at the same time, he said.
Merlino said Victoria was “absolutely keen to increase eligibility” for coronavirus vaccinations in Victoria to those under the age of 40, or to priority groups such as teachers, but does not have enough supply. He said that Victoria was delivering 40% of all vaccines in Australia and had a 93% utilisation rate – meaning 7% was being wasted.
“We are at capacity,” he said. “If there is a greater level of supply and even more confidence in the supply going forward then we can increase eligibility but at the moment, we are absolutely running at capacity and every vaccine we are getting, we’re putting into peoples’ arms.”
Merlino announced a further $8.36m in support for businesses which are not allowed to open, including gyms, dance clubs and amusement parks, which will be eligible for a top-up grant of $2,000.
The Victorian chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said restrictions were being eased slowly to ensure there were no undetected chains of transmission. Health authorities still haven’t discovered the transmission link between the South Australian quarantine breach and the first Wollert case reported in late May, and the Victorian hotel quarantine case and the West Melbourne Delta outbreak.
“The Delta variant is one in particular that is obviously being discovered through people coming forward for testing which doesn’t have that intermediary case, necessarily, with hotel quarantine,” he said.
Sutton said he hoped restrictions in Melbourne would be able to be eased further in eight days, but it “remains a reasonably volatile situation”.
“The idea of a snap back to absolutely no restrictions whatsoever, no one has done that after significant community transmission,” Sutton said. “It didn’t happen after Avalon [the Sydney northern beaches outbreak], it hasn’t happened after other significant community outbreaks, and so we have to move by increments, safely, but with the minimum restrictions that we know will continue to control this.”
He said he knew that lockdown was “an awfully painful period”.
“I have always had in mind that we need to do what is required to make sure that we get back down to zero,” he said. “There is really no alternative. Our national strategy of aggressive suppression is there for a reason. If you do not get to zero, there is no grumbling along with one or two cases.
“This started with one case in Wollert that has led to almost 100 cases over a period of a few weeks. So we absolutely have to drive it back down to zero.”
The Victorian Liberal party introduced a bill to state parliament on Wednesday to force the disclosure of public health advice, saying decisions had been made with an “unacceptable level of secrecy”.
Merlino said claims there had been a lack of transparency were “a complete myth pedalled by the Liberals.” He pointed to Sutton’s appearance at Wednesday’s press conference, along with many others, as a sign of the government’s transparency.
The new case reported on Wednesday is a person who was already isolating as a close contact of the Stratton Finance cluster.
The Victorian health minister, Martin Foley, said there were 2,100 close contacts of that cluster still in isolation and 1,500 of the outbreak first identified in the City of Whittlesea.
There were also 1,057 close contacts isolating as a result of the outbreak in the Arcare Maidstone aged care home, and 1,112 isolating as contacts of the West Melbourne cluster.
“These numbers are continuing to fall each day as people finalise their quarantine period,” he said. “And as these numbers fall, so do the list of exposure sites linked to these aspects of the original part of this outbreak.”
The number of exposure sites has fallen to 200 from a high of more than 300.