Victorians enduring the country’s toughest COVID rules might have more cause for hope than first thought, with the state’s treasury department predicting they could be back on the beers by Christmas.
The rosy view of the state’s immediate future comes despite Victoria reporting a record 21 deaths from coronavirus on Wednesday, and 410 new cases after three days of falling numbers.
Metropolitan Melbourne is in its second week of strict Stage 4 restrictions, which include a nightly curfew, a ban on travelling further than five kilometres from home and a shutdown of all but essential work.
Regional Victoria is under slightly less stringent Stage 3 restrictions.
Both sets of rules will not end until September 13.
Despite that, Treasurer Tim Pallas told a parliamentary COVID-19 inquiry on Wednesday that the state’s economy was expected to improve by mid-September.
“How quickly and how effective that process will be, I suppose history will judge,” he told the Public Accounts and Estimate Committee.
Treasury secretary David Martine said modelling was based on stage 4 restrictions moving to Stage 3 in mid-September and then Stage 2 in the December quarter.
“We’re not actually forecasting a bounce-back in the September quarter,” Mr Martine said.
Previous Stage 2 restrictions allowed for cafes, restaurants and pubs to reopen, while Victorians were able to host five visitors in their home and meet outside in groups of up to 10.
“Our economy is resilient and we will get through this. But the best thing right now is to get on top of the health emergency so we can begin the task of economic recovery,” Mr Pallas said.
He said unemployment might peak at 11 per cent in the three months to September, a 2 per cent rise on forecasts released in July. Job losses are expected to peak at 325,000.
Women and young people have been most affected by the coronavirus pandemic, Mr Pallas said, noting they were more likely to work in the worst-hit sectors including hospitality, social services, healthcare and retail.
“The nature of their employment tends to be more insecure,” he said.
Premier Daniel Andrews said Mr Martine had to make assumptions for the modelling and a conclusion could not be drawn that the timing of reopening of the economy was a certainty.
“I would love to be able to confirm for you what we’re going to be facing in October. We can’t know that. We can only assume,” Mr Andrews said.
“I would just say that’s a theoretical issue. The practical delivery of this strategy really does depend upon literally millions and millions of decisions that are made by individuals and families each and every day.”