Melburnians are hours away from freedom after another 77 days in lockdown as Victoria hits a crucial vaccination target five days ahead of schedule.
On Wednesday, the federal health department reported 70.01 per cent of Australians aged over 16 had received two vaccine doses.
The rate was 81 per cent for people aged over 50 and 86.2 per cent for over-70s.
Across the country, full vaccination rates range from 82.8 per cent in the ACT to 57 per cent in Western Australia.
The milestone came as federal Health Minister Greg Hunt revealed the expert immunisation panel would meet on Monday to discuss booster shots.
There’s more on the booster shots here.
Read on for the latest on Victoria’s lockdown ending, exposure sites, and a NSW recovery plan.
Hospitality workers in Melbourne are scrambling to get vaccinated against COVID-19 ahead of lockdown lifting, with some getting the call up to work from midnight for special celebrations at Victorian pubs and restaurants.
Victoria’s rules ease at 11.59pm on Thursday, five days earlier than planned, as the state reaches its 70 per cent fully-vaccinated target.
Federal government figures show 89.2 per cent of Victorians aged over 16 have received one dose of a COVID-19 vaccine.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison confirmed on morning television on Thursday that Victoria – and Tasmania – had broken through the 70 per cent target.
“The longest road has been journeyed in Victoria and that long road really starts to open up tonight,” Mr Morrison told the Seven Network.
“But as always, all states and territories, are coming from a different starting point. They’ll all cautiously find their way back. This is not a big opening in that first step.”
Under new rules from Friday, people will be able to leave their homes for any reason and travel anywhere within metropolitan Melbourne.
The curfew will be scrapped, home gatherings of up to 10 will be allowed, and hairdressers and hospitality businesses will reopen for the fully vaccinated.
However, in a last-minute change to reopening plans, all hospitality staff must be fully vaccinated to work.
This is despite online health directions stating authorised workers, including those in hospitality, must have had one vaccine dose by October 22 and a second by November 26.
Australian Hotels Association Victoria chief executive Paddy O’Sullivan said the government had “moved the goalposts” on the sector and asked for a grace period to allow staff time to get vaccinated.
But Victoria’s COVID-19 commander Jeroen Weimar said “there is no wriggle room”.
With some pubs in Melbourne to reopen at midnight, staff at hospitality venues will be allowed to go into work after the curfew kicks in at 9pm to get their venues ready, but patrons must wait until 11.59pm to leave home.
According to a survey conducted by NAB, a top priority for about 48 per cent of Victorians once lockdown lifts, outside of visiting family and friends, is dining at a restaurant.
Forty per cent are prioritising having a haircut or beauty treatment, while one in five were keen to “get on the beers” at a pub.
About two-thirds of the 550 Victorians surveyed said they were going to “splurge” when restrictions lifted.
Melbourne is considered the most locked-down city in the world, having endured a total of 262 days under stay-at-home orders since March 2020.
Victoria had 1841 local COVID-19 cases and 12 deaths on Wednesday, taking the toll from the latest outbreak to 175.
New exposure sites were identified late on Wednesday:
- The Massage Shop, Kennington
- McQuinns Gym, Bendigo
- Wild Life Brewing Co, Shepparton
- Luce Fit, South Geelong
- Blooms the Chemist, Daylesford
- Shingo’s Lounge, Shepparton
- Wyncity, Morwell
In NSW, support for businesses ravaged by recent lockdown is on the way, with newly-minted Treasurer Matt Kean to unveil his economic recovery plan.
On Wednesday, the state government announced a $530 million financial aid plan for the tourism and events sector, after earlier this week outlining a mental health care package.
Included in the funding is a voucher scheme aimed at boosting domestic tourism. Every adult will receive a $50 voucher to spend on a hotel in the state.
Called Stay and Rediscover, the scheme builds on the success of the recently expanded Dine and Discover program and is part of a broader package designed to help the state’s tourism industry after months of lockdown.
The package also included a $60 million aviation attraction fund, $150 million to restart major events across the state, a $25 million support fund for music festivals, $50 million to revitalise the Sydney CBD, and funding for business events, cancelled events, and recovery marketing.
But Premier Dominic Perrottet in parliament teased more announcements for Thursday.
“The Treasurer will be releasing the economic recovery plan tomorrow, which will support businesses to help recover every single one of the 230,000 jobs that have been lost during this most recent outbreak,” he said.
“We are confident that we will do that because it’s exactly what we did last year … by putting people and families and businesses before the budget.
In fact, Mr Perrottet said the state was already “bouncing back better” – which is the name of the plan.
“Data from freedom day reveals a 10-fold increase in spending across previously shuttered retail and hospitality sectors,” he said.
Some $12.8 million was spent in NSW restaurants, pubs and bars, up from $1 million on the previous Monday, and retail spending lifted from $35 million to $100 million, and a further $4 million was spent on accommodation.
“Haircuts are going through the roof – $5 million was splurged on state hairdressers and barbers in one week,” said Mr Perrottet, whose first port of call after lockdown lifted was a barber.
It comes as the number of new cases diagnosed across NSW remains relatively low, despite virus rules easing.
- Click here to see regional exposure sites
There were 283 new local cases and seven deaths on Wednesday.
There are 552 people in NSW hospitals with COVID, 124 of them in intensive care.