Victorian businesses have described the state’s roadmap out of lockdown as a “roadblock” and say it is too conservative compared to NSW’s path to freedom.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday promised the COVID-weary state would open up and live with the virus but lockdowns would remain until 70 per cent full vaccination was achieved which is forecast for October 26.
It would put Victoria about two weeks behind Sydney in enjoying reprieve from restrictions, despite NSW having recorded more COVID-19 cases, hospitalisations and deaths.
Mr Andrews said the plan was “cautious” and would prevent the state’s hospital system from being overrun.
The Burnet Institute’s modelling – used to inform the state’s decision-making – suggested hospital admissions would peak at about 3150 towards the end of December and deaths would peak at about 2200 in January.
Business groups including the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and the peak retail lobby said it wasn’t fair to open up slower than NSW.
“Victorian businesses wanted a pathway to prosperity, but instead we got a roadmap with roadblocks,” Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said in a statement.
“It is extremely tough to look over the border and see our NSW neighbours get back to relatively normal life while we continue to be locked down in a holding pattern.”
The Australian Hotels Association Victorian president David Canny said he was “gutted” and called for consistency between states.
The Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra said the road map was “disappointing” and would cost the industry $6 billion.
Victoria’s roadmap details some small changes to Melbourne’s restrictions when 80 per cent of Victorians aged over 16 have received a single vaccine dose, including an increase of the 10-kilometre travel limit to 15km.
But lockdown will remain in place until 70 per cent of Victorians are double vaccinated/
At that stage, the city’s curfew will lift, the travel limit will increase to 25 kilometres and hospitality can open outdoors with a limit of 50 fully vaccinated people.
Fully vaccinated people will also be able to get a haircut and gather outdoors in groups of 10.
Once Victoria reaches its 80 per cent double-dose target, forecast for November 5, the travel limit will go altogether, shops, gyms and beauty services can reopen for the fully vaccinated and hospitality can resume indoors.
Home gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed, while at Christmas the figure is expected to increase to 30.
The reopening of schools will not be tied to vaccination coverage, with year 12 students going back to class on October 6 and a staggered return of other years starting with prep to grade twos on October 18.
On Sunday, Victoria had 507 COVID-19 cases and the death of a man in his 90s, bringing the toll from the latest outbreak to 11.
Three local government areas in regional Victoria – Greater Geelong, the Surf Coast and Mitchell Shire – also began seven-day lockdowns due to a rise in infections.
Rules relax in Sydney hotspots
Those in Sydney’s hardest hit suburbs are set for their first taste of freedom in months, with recreation rules relaxing as vaccination rates continue to climb.
Fully vaccinated adults in the 12 government areas of concern will from Monday be able to exercise outdoors with no time limits, and gather in groups of five for outdoor recreation within five kilometres from home.
Children under 12 are not included in the gathering limit.
Conditions for authorised workers and travel permit requirements will remain in place in the LGAs of concern, however.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian thanked residents for their resilience before offering them the extra freedoms that had been granted to the rest of the city a week earlier.
“The opportunity for us to ease the restrictions in the areas of concern, or equalise them in line with the rest of Sydney, is due in large part to the high rates of vaccination,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“We have seen some of those communities go from rates of around 19 or 20 per cent up to nearly 90 per cent and that is extremely encouraging.”
Monday is also the deadline for authorised workers to have been inoculated with at least one COVID-19 vaccine dose to be permitted to leave their LGA for work, unless they have a medical exemption.
Despite the relaxation of some restrictions, Ms Berejiklian warned the state’s situation remained “precarious”, as NSW reported 13 deaths on Sunday — an outbreak record.
“We are anticipating our worst weeks in ICU and hospitals will be in October,” she said.
The state had 1083 local COVID-19 cases on Sunday.
Of the 13 people who died with COVID-19 in the latest reporting period, one was in their 40s, two in their 50s, two in their 60s, five in their 70s, and three in their 80s.
There are 1238 COVID-19 cases in hospital, with 234 people in intensive care, 123 of whom require ventilation.
The findings of the Doherty Institute’s updated analysis of the national recovery plan will be discussed further in a press conference on Monday.
The Doherty Institute was asked to carry out additional “sensitivity analyses” of the scenarios to open Australia presented in its initial report.
The institute said its findings confirmed its earlier strategic advice that even high levels of vaccination would not be sufficient to stop COVID-19 in its tracks.
But doctors are calling for caution when easing restrictions on reaching vaccination rates of 70 and 80 per cent under the national recovery plan.
Australian Medical Association president Omar Khorshid said the updated Doherty modelling released late on Friday underlined the need to be cautious when easing restrictions.
“The health system needs to be much better prepared to deal with the growing burden of COVID-19, as well as be able to deliver non-COVID-19 related care,” he said.
The institute’s Professor Jodie McVernon and University of Melbourne’s Professor James McCaw are expected to brief the public on Monday.
One shot closer
Business organisations are urging Australians to get vaccinated under a new campaign called ‘One shot closer’.
“Every person we get vaccinated brings us one shot closer to bringing Australians back together and letting us all get on with our lives,” Business Council chief executive Jennifer Westacott said.
She said the campaign was supported by Facebook and endorsed by the Council of Small Business Organisations of Australia, the Food and Groceries Council and the Restaurant and Catering Association, along with some of the biggest employers in the country.
“This is critical to the economy and the mental health and wellbeing of all Australians,” Ms Westacott said.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that as of Saturday, 71.7 per cent of eligible Australians had had one jab, while 46.7 per cent were fully vaccinated with two doses.
He also said the Therapeutic Goods Administration had given the all-clear to a Moderna shipment secured from the European Union. It is expected to be rolled out to 1800 pharmacies this week.