Daniel Andrews has promised “significant” changes to his state’s lockdowns will come next week, but warned they may not be as extensive as hoped, or originally planned.
The Victorian Premier employed a football metaphor to ask Victorians to “dig deep” and work until “the final siren” as he announced plans for longer quarantine on Sunday.
Victorians now face the prospect of another extension to the country’s longest and toughest COVID-19 rules.
Mr Andrews said he understood Melburnians had become “weary” of lockdown. No doubt it would also be weighing on the Premier’s mind that voters disappointed the state isn’t opening up yet may tire of him, though he has insisted he will put health ahead of politics.
The criticism began soon after the announcement, with business groups reacting with alarm at the prospect of shops staying shut, calling it a “serious blow” just weeks before Christmas.
Victoria logged another 12 COVID cases on Sunday, putting out of reach the nominated threshold to ease many restrictions by October 19.
Under the state’s ‘roadmap’, the ‘third step’ – including removing restrictions on leaving home, and the five kilometre limit on travel – can only be granted in metro Melbourne if the 14-day rolling average of cases is below five.
On current numbers, even if Melbourne had zero cases every day until next Sunday, that benchmark would not be met.
Yesterday there were 12 new cases & the loss of one life reported. The 14 day rolling average is down slightly and cases with unknown source remain stable in Metro Melbourne. More data will be available later today. Info: https://t.co/eTputEZdhs#COVID19Vic #COVID19VicData pic.twitter.com/64CTaju3WX
— VicGovDHHS (@VicGovDHHS) October 10, 2020
Mr Andrews said “it will probably be mathematically impossible” to reach the five-case threshold, but gave Victorians hope in saying some changes would be allowed on Sunday.
“Everything is on the table. A whole lot of outdoor activities is on the table,” the Premier said, in answering which restrictions may be relaxed next week.
He said the exact list was still being decided, but that it would be a “significant” slate of reforms allowing people to re-establish connections with friends and family.
“We’ll also spend quite a bit of time thinking about what’s a safe group size for people outside to be able to join each other,” Mr Andrews said.
“It will be the stuff that people are really missing.”
The Premier admitted people were getting fed up with lockdown.
“I fully acknowledge that people are getting very weary. They’re getting very fatigued. They’re getting frustrated,” he said.
“There’s a lot of pain out there and people are really feeling it. That’s the nature of these things. We’re well into the last quarter and people’s
legs are tired, the game is very tight, and you just got to dig deep and find a way to get to that final siren.”
When asked by a journalist if Victoria might never hit the target of five cases per day, chief health officer Professor Brett Sutton responded “Who knows?”
“No one’s been to this point with a second wave anywhere in the world. We are treading new ground,” he said.
“So I won’t say in absolute terms what the possibilities are. We can’t discount that it might be extraordinarily difficult to drive down to zero, but I think it’s possible.”
Professor Sutton said he backed Victoria’s system of contact tracing, quarantine and public health responses, adding “If those things work, we’ll get there”.
NSW averaged more than 10 cases a day in July + August – and stayed open safely without creating a wave.
Victoria should do the same.
We must not be held hostage to unachievable targets and Andrews’ elimination strategy.
— Michael O'Brien (@michaelobrienmp) October 10, 2020
However, state opposition leader Michael O’Brien slammed the government’s commitment to staying with the five-a-day target, claiming it was an “unachievable target”.
On Sunday, Mr Andrews also announced two new measures to attack the “stubborn tail” of virus cases.
The first is that ‘close contacts’ of confirmed COVID cases, who are currently obliged to quarantine for 14 days, must take a test on day 11 or face another 10 days – 24 in total – in quarantine.
The second is to address people travelling from metro Melbourne, business owners in regional Victoria must make sure customers are not coming from the city.
Businesses that “consciously fail to check their customers are not from metropolitan Melbourne”, such as inspecting their driving licence, could be fined more than $9900.
The Premier also announced he would hand over his phone records and text messages to the hotel quarantine inquiry.
The Australian Retailers Association said it was “highly disappointed” Mr Andrews hadn’t confirmed the date for all shops to reopen, saying businesses needed certainty.
“With most retail businesses now shut for at least 66 days straight as part of the COVID-19 lockdowns, we recognise this is a serious blow to retailers who were expecting to open next week and begin preparations for Christmas,” the ARA said in an email to members.
CEO Paul Zahra was upset at the latest news.
“Beyond the disappointment, we are also gravely concerned by the fact we have not seen any specific plan that will guide retailers through the restart process,” he said.
“With Christmas 10 weeks away, additional time and planning is also necessary to physically prepare the stores for the critically important holiday trading period.”
The Chapel Street Precinct Association was also upset.
“Whilst it’s pleasing to hear some restrictions may finally be eased next Sunday, we call on our government to start showing some trust in our businesses and commence reopening now,” association general manager Chrissie Maus said.
“Our businesses have been ready for some time now with clear and effective COVID-safe plans and we critically need to restart our local economy now before it’s too late.”
Mr Andrews said more news on the easing of rules would be presented in coming days.