Millions of Victorians will enjoy more freedoms from later this week, despite more COVID cases in the state – including one in a vaccinated nurse.
From midnight Thursday, Melbourne residents will be allowed to visit regional Victoria, while limitations on gatherings will also ease as the state’s virus rules are further eased.
Acting Premier James said the state will “come back together” as the 25-kilometre limit on Melburnians’ travel is dumped.
Masks will also no longer be mandatory for city-dwellers. They will, however, still be required inside and whenever Victorians feel they cannot socially distance.
Five new cases of coronavirus were reported by Victorian authorities on Wednesday, but two of those had previously been reported on Tuesday.
Of the three new infections, one is a vaccinated nurse. She had worked on the COVID ward at a private hospital in Melbourne’s north.
Testing commander Jeroen Weimar said she was thought to have been infectious for one shift. Authorities were “concerned” about her infection, he said.
Two other cases, which were announced on Tuesday, are residents of the Kings Park Apartment Complex at Southbank.
The complex has been locked down for 14 days after six residents, including an infant, have become infected with COVID-19.
More than 30 new exposure sites in Port Melbourne, Richmond, Southbank, South Melbourne and the CBD were listed overnight.
Under rules from Friday morning, Melburnians will again be allowed visitors to their home – two people a day, although that doesn’t include dependents.
Public gatherings will be allowed for up to 12 people and there is some good news for businesses including gyms, indoor entertainment venues and electronic gaming which will all be allowed to reopen.
All venues will be able to increase patron caps, including restaurants, cafe, religious settings and entertainment venues.
All Victorians are asked to continue working from home, if possible. But capacity caps for Melbourne office workers will rise to 50 per cent or up to 20 people, whichever is greater. In regional areas, up to 75 per cent of people can return.
Competition and community support is also back. There is no limit on travel for sport in Victoria.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said it was too soon for Victoria to “snap back” to the settings before its latest outbreaks emerged.
“We have to work on the basis that we may yet still have cases in metro Melbourne and potentially elsewhere who are infectious, who don’t know that they’re cases and are moving about,” he said.
“These restrictions are a reflection of being able to manage that risk of transmission.
“The snap back to COVID normal, if you like, that we had previously, we are not at that stage yet.
“We’re moving by safe and steady increments, with a view to continue to ease restrictions as we run down these last few cases.”
There will be looser caps on gatherings and home visitors for people in regional Victoria. Mr Merlino said that was “extra protection” to help keep country areas free of the virus.
The new settings will last at least a week.
“Subject to case numbers, subject to exposure sites, and always on the advice of public health, I expect that we will be back here in another week to make some further announcements about easing of restrictions,” he said.
“We have to ease in a way that is safe, and we are making positive progress with the announcements that we are making, both for regional Victoria metropolitan Melbourne.”
In another change, Melburnians who want to head to the snow will also need a negative COVID test within 72 hours of heading out to Victoria’s alpine resorts. Proof of a test will be required on arrival at the snow.
Chief health officer Brett Sutton said evidence from Europe showed snowfield resorts were higher risk areas for the spread of the virus.
In regional Victoria, public gatherings of up to 50 people will be allowed.
Restaurants and cafes will be able to open to a maximum of 300 patrons for seated service.
Religious ceremonies will be capped at 300 for the venue, while 100 people will be able to attend a funeral. Weddings will be limited to 50.
Visitors to the home will be limited to five adults a day, plus dependants.