NSW residents can get out their dancing shoes, with a dramatic easing of coronavirus rules after the state’s third consecutive day without locally acquired infections.
Under the winding back of virus measures announced on Thursday, dancing at weddings will be back on and children’s sport will also get a welcome boost.
It came after NSW Health confirmed just one new COVID infection on Thursday – in a returned traveller in hotel quarantine.
Premier Gladys Berejiklian said the streak would end on Friday after a lone case of community transmission was confirmed after 8pm on Wednesday. It will be part of Friday’s figures.
But that didn’t stop her from announcing more relaxed virus measures. The Premier also wants Sydney’s traditional New Year’s Eve fireworks extravaganza to go ahead, although most people will have to watch it from home.
Weddings will get an instant lift, with Ms Berejiklian revealing that up to 20 people will be allowed to take to the dance floor. Under previous rules, only the bride and groom were allowed to dance.
“But I stress it is the same 20 – you cannot have a roster … not different multiples of 20,” Ms Berejiklian said.
“This is really important because weddings and, unfortunately, funeral and other gatherings is where the virus is most contagious and spreads most readily.”
State Health Minister Brad Hazzard said NSW’s recent run of fewer cases had led to the change.
“While we are by no means out of the woods, low case numbers give health authorities the confidence to allow mums and dads back onto the sideline,” Mr Hazzard said.
NSW Education Minister Sarah Mitchell said school sport would return to normal next term, but parents won’t be able to watch.
Parents will be allowed at community sport venues, as long as they follow COVID-safe guidelines.
School choirs will also resume with up to five participants, as long as they socially distance. Music ensembles will be able to have unlimited numbers of students.
Parents will be allowed back on campus to help with activities such as group reading, and year six formals and celebrations will also be able to take place in term four.
“We are anticipating we’ll be able to have school assemblies and presentation days at the end of term for all so we’ll be providing our schools over the next couple of weeks a few more details in relation to our guidelines,” Ms Mitchell said.
South Australia rolls out the welcome mat
There was more joy for NSW residents on Thursday, with scores taking advantage of being able to travel to South Australia after the state’s border reopened to them for the first time in nearly six months.
Restrictions were lifted at midnight on Wednesday, after NSW had two days with zero community transmission of COVID-19.
Airlines were quick to capitalise on the announcement. Shortly after it came on Wednesday, Jetstar advertised flights from Sydney to Adelaide for just $59 and Virgin said it would resume daily flights between the state capitals from October 2.
Qantas has added more flights to its Sydney-to-Adelaide route, with domestic and international travel boss Andrew David telling the Today show on Thursday that one flight had “all but sold out”. Extra flights were added for the weekend.
NSW Health is treating 71 coronavirus cases, with two patients in intensive care.
Victoria remains under strict lockdown
In Victoria, Premier Daniel Andrews has dashed the hopes of Melburnians eyeing more freedoms than first promised ahead of an announcement on Sunday.
The state had just 12 more COVID cases on Thursday, bringing the crucial 14-day average to just 26.7.
That is well below the 30-50 range set out in Victoria’s roadmap for Stage 4 restrictions to be wound back from September 28, but Mr Andrews was careful to manage expectations about likely changes.
He promised only to allow “safe and steady steps” out of Melbourne’s eight-week shutdown on Sunday.
“Sunday will not be a day of massive steps – the roadmap does not speak to that,” he said.
“It is not a day when we essentially throw the doors open.”
Nor would he be drawn on exactly what virus restrictions are likely to change, suggesting decisions will come down to the wire and won’t be firmed up until late on Saturday.
“Modelling is being rerun and retested as we speak to inform those decisions we will have to make on Saturday evening,” he said.
“I think we are ahead of schedule but whether that holds and whether we’ve been ahead of schedule for long enough to be able to change dates further into the road map, that’s not a decision that we can make now.
“I do hope to be able to have a bit more to say about that when I’m here on Sunday.”
The deaths of two women in their 80s were also confirmed on Thursday. The pandemic has so far claimed 783 Victorian lives, and 861 nationally.