It has been a tough few months for Victorians, but the country’s longest lockdown is almost over.
Premier Daniel Andrews was visibly emotional on Monday as he announced that shops and restaurants would reopen, restrictions on leaving home would ease, and funerals and weddings could welcome more guests.
“We are able to say that now is the time to open up,” the Premier said.
“Now is the time to congratulate every single Victorian for staying the course. Now is the time to thank every single Victorian family for being guided by the data, the science and the doctors.”
Coming a day after he had put a “cautious pause” on relaxing rules – pending more than 1000 tests linked to an outbreak in Melbourne’s north – Mr Andrews’ announcement was hotly anticipated by lockdown-weary Victorians.
But once news broke that all those tests had come back negative, and the Premier came out for the daily press conference in his now-famous North Face jacket, Melburnians breathed a sigh of relief.
The Premier congratulated the citizens of his state for “not letting our frustration get the better of us” and proving themselves “better than this wicked enemy”.
“This belongs to every single Victorian who has followed the rules, stayed the course, worked with me and my team, to bring this second wave to an end,” he said.
COVID lockdown rules changing in Melbourne and Victoria
Many of the changes are due to come into force at 11.59pm on Tuesday, but a small number have already come in, or will be announced in coming days.
From 11.59pm on Tuesday:
- The stay home orders, including the ‘four reasons’ to leave home, will be scrapped
- Work rules will change to “if you can work from home you must work from home”, but people won’t need a permit
- Melbourne’s cafes, restaurants and pubs will be able to open to 50 people outside and 20 people inside
- All retail business, as well as beauty, personal care and tattooing services, will be allowed to reopen at 11.59pm on Tuesday. But employees can return now to prepare for reopening
- Outdoor contact sport for under 18s, and non-contact sport for adults, will be allowed to restart
- Personal training, fitness and dance classes with 10 people can resume outdoors
- Outdoor pools can welcome 50 people
- Libraries, community venues and entertainment venues can resume outdoor events
- Faith services can have 20 people at outdoor events and 10 people inside
- Weddings can welcome 10 people, funerals up to 20.
Visiting friends and family at home will be reassessed as soon as Tuesday, the Premier promised, saying experts wanted an extra 24 hours before tinkering with that rule.
When asked by a journalist whether changes meant Victorians could “get on the beers”, Mr Andrews gave a wry smile.
“I don’t know that I’ll be drinking a beer tonight. I might go a little higher up the shelf,” he joked.
very first question to Daniel Andrews at his presser, after announcing easing of VIC restrictions: "is what you're saying, that we can finally get back on the beers?"
— Josh Butler (@JoshButler) October 26, 2020
What’s staying the same
But of course, some rules remain. Mr Andrews said he hoped to make further announcements, pending future case numbers, by November 8.
The 25-kilometre distance limit from home will remain until further notice – a continuation the Premier said was “frustrating”, but was “making sure that even as we ease restrictions, we’re limiting the virus’s ability to travel.”
The ‘ring of steel’ separating Melbourne from regional Victoria will also remain. Those two rules may be changed from November 8, if cases remain low.
From the same day, capacities at restaurants and religious gatherings may increase. Gyms and indoor fitness facilities may be allowed to reopen too, as will hotel accommodation.
“I promise, we’ll also have an update on 8 November on the timelines and thresholds for taking the last step,” Mr Andrews said.
“We want to reach COVID normal by Christmas and right now, we’re on track to do that.”
Calls to open Victoria faster
Despite the changes, there were calls for things to move even quicker.
In a joint statement, Prime Minister Scott Morrison, Treasurer Josh Frydenberg and Health Minister Greg Hunt welcomed the news, saying there is “light at the end of the tunnel for Victorians”.
“We congratulate Victorians – this was the announcement that they were expecting and one they have worked hard to achieve,” the trio said, in also calling for more rules to be relaxed.
“It will be important for the Victorian government to provide even more clarity to Victorians in the coming days and where restrictions do not have a health basis that they are removed quickly,” the ministers said.
“We look forward to Victoria continuing to make progress on the path to reopening and joining the rest of the country at Steps 2 and 3 in the national plan.”
Federal Labor leader Anthony Albanese praised Victorians.
To every Victorian – Australia is so proud of you.
Retail, cafes and pubs are reopening. Restrictions on leaving home are being lifted. These achievements belong to you.
This isn't over yet. But because of your efforts, the light at the end of the tunnel is brighter than ever.
— Anthony Albanese (@AlboMP) October 26, 2020
Meanwhile, Victorian Liberal leader Michael O’Brien accused Mr Andrews of a “failure”.
“Victorians will finally start to catch up to the rest of Australia next month, after almost half a year of lockdowns caused by the Andrews Labor government’s botched hotel quarantine program,” he said.
“There is much more to do to open up Victoria and today’s belated announcement must only be the start.”