Victoria’s snap “short, sharp circuit-breaker” coronavirus lockdown will end on schedule at midnight on Wednesday, Premier Daniel Andrews has confirmed, but mask rules and gathering limits will remain in place.
Schools will re-open, workplaces will return to 50 per cent capacity and people will be allowed to leave the house for any reason.
However, masks will remain mandatory in all indoor settings outside the home and mandatory outdoors when keeping a physical distance of 1.5 metres is not possible.
Mr Andrews said the wearing of masks was an “ongoing insurance policy”.
From 11.59pm Wednesday at least until 11.59pm on Friday, February 26, Victorians will only be allowed five visitors to the home, instead of the previous 15-person limit.
Up to 20 people from any number of households will be allowed at public gatherings.
Hospitality venues will return to their pre-lockdown settings, with a density quotient of one person per two square metres once there are more than 25 patrons in a venue.
Hairdressers and other personal services will return to their pre-lockdown settings.
Visits to hospitals and care facilities will be limited to one household per day.
New restrictions to remain in place until next Friday
The snap lockdown came into effect hours after it was announced on Friday and was prompted by fears the more infectious B117 “variant of concern” had spread from an outbreak linked to a quarantine hotel into the community.
All 19 of the confirmed cases linked to the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport outbreak are understood to have the more virulent British strain of COVID-19.
After processing nearly 40,000 test results on Tuesday, the state did not detect any new cases of COVID-19 in the community or in hotel quarantine.
Mr Andrews said he believed it was “the biggest single day of testing” since the pandemic began in Victoria.
There are still about 3400 close contacts of primary cases who are completing a 14-day quarantine, who may test positive during the incubation period.
“I am not foreshadowing any changes to these rules between now and Friday week,” Mr Andrews said.
“I, of course, acknowledge the very difficult circumstances many have faced but there was simply no alternative but to follow the advice provided.”
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said with “literally thousands” of people who had been potentially exposed to the virus, people were still likely to test positive in coming days.
“It’s not over yet,” he said.
“It’s absolutely a good result. Everybody loves days of zeros, but the incubation period is 14 days.”
The outbreak and the lockdown that followed has placed increased scrutiny on Victoria’s hotel quarantine program and contact tracing capacity.
Business groups have criticised the restrictions and the Australian Medical Association has declared the state “cannot be trusted” to run hotel quarantine.
The state is investigating building fit-for-purpose quarantine facilities.
Mr Andrews defended the lockdown, saying 40,000 tests and no new cases “was the desired outcome” and was delivered by “the work of the people of Victoria”.
“If we had been open through this outbreak then that number [of close contacts] would not be 3400,” he said.
“It would be much, much higher than that, total case numbers would be much, much higher than that and it is a certainty I would not be reporting zero cases today.”
The Premier said announcements about support for businesses hit hard by the snap statewide lockdown would be made “when we are in a position to do so”.