Victorians shouldn’t expect a normal Christmas this year, Premier Daniel Andrews has warned.
But he has pledged a “COVID-normal Christmas” without many of the restrictive virus measures that have been part of Victorian life for weeks.
“We don’t want it to be a lockdown Christmas. We want it to be a Christmas that can be as close to normal as possible, a COVID-normal Christmas,” he said.
“Many of these rules will seem a long time ago, because we will have moved to a very different set of rules by then.”
Victoria confirmed 43 new coronavirus infections on Friday, its lowest daily tally since Monday. It was the state’s eighth straight day of double-digit increases as case numbers continue to fall.
There were also nine more fatalities, taking the state’s virus toll to 710.
They were a woman in her 50s, another in her 70s, three men in their 80s, and four women in their 90s. Seven of the deaths were linked outbreaks in aged care.
Friday’s case tally further dragged down crucial 14-day averages in metropolitan Melbourne (65.3) and regional Victoria (4.7).
In regional areas, where there are just 74 active cases, that is below the number needed before authorities will begin to wind back COVID rules. Mr Andrews said country Victoria was poised to “take at least a step and potentially two steps” out of virus restrictions within days.
But metropolitan Melbourne faces at least two more weeks of tough Stage 4 measures as authorities try to drive cases down to a rolling 14-day average of less than 50.
“The regional experience shows that it is working, it will continue to work in Melbourne,” Mr Andrews said.
‘Five weeks ago, 725 cases. Today we have got in the low 40s. Now, we have to keep that trend going.”
He said a “COVID-normal Christmas” would have much freer virus rules, but still wouldn’t look like a normal festive season.
One big change will be the famous Myer Christmas window display. The family favourite show at the retailer’s Bourke Street flagship store, which draws more than a million visitors every year, has been cancelled for 2020.
A Myer spokeswoman said the company had been “exploring every possible option” for the window displays to go ahead, but the state government’s road map had made it impossible.
“With the government’s latest announcements and recommendations, we are unfortunately unable to proceed with the windows like we have done in past years,” she told the Nine newspapers.
Elsewhere, Victorian authorities are concerned about a positive virus case in Echuca, in the state’s north. The mystery infection is the first in the Murray River town.
Acting deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng said a special team was examining the case.
“There is still retesting going on of the case, and we haven’t had any other cases from that area. There’s no known contacts between that person and any other case,” he said.
Meanwhile, Victorians have been urged not to delay seeking treatment for deadly diseases, as figures show a significant decline in non-coronavirus presentations to hospitals.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said it was clear people were putting off treatment.
“Deferred care can lead to worse health outcomes, longer hospitalisation stays, it can lead to tragedy,” she said.
Emergency department presentations for heart attacks have fallen by 18 per cent compared to the same time in 2019, while strokes are down 24 per cent.
There has also been a 30 per cent reduction in the detection of the five most common cancers – colorectal, prostate, breast, melanoma and lung – with fewer cancer screenings.
“We are urging Victorians to continue to visit their GP, to take their regular medication, and if they have any lumps or bumps or symptoms that they are concerned about, please do not defer seeking medical care” the minister said.