Premier Daniel Andrews has congratulated Victorians for “a mighty effort” in bringing down COVID cases, while warning it is too early to say if some of the state’s biggest events will go ahead in front of crowds.
Victoria had 35 new virus cases on Monday – its lowest number in 11 weeks.
Monday’s figure took the city’s crucial rolling 14-day average of new COVID cases to 54.4 – inching closer to 50, which it must hit before virus rules will be wound back further.
“We have gone from 725 cases to now down into the 30s. That is a mighty effort,” Mr Andrews said.
There were also six more deaths confirmed on Monday, taking the state’s virus toll to 729. Seven fatalities were reported initially but one was later removed due to duplication.
They were a man in his 70s, a man and a woman in her 80s and three men and a woman in their 90s.
Mr Andrews said the government was still discussing with sporting bodies about how many of summer’s biggest Melbourne events – including the Boxing Day Test and Australian Open – will go ahead.
“It is too early to determine whether they will have crowds. It is too early for us to determine how big any crowd might be,” he said.
“It is hard for us to predict where virus numbers will be, what risks do we have to deal with in just a few weeks’ time, let alone months.”
Cricket Australia is in the final stages of finalising tweaks to its 2020-21 schedule.
The growing expectation is the MCG will remain host of the Boxing Day Test between Australia and India, with Adelaide Oval to serve as CA’s back-up plan.
Tennis Australia chief executive Craig Tiley indicated last week he hoped Melbourne Park would have crowds of some description during its grand slam.
Mr Andrews said there was no reason to think either the Boxing Day Test or Australian Open would be held elsewhere. But neither would look as it normally did.
“It won’t be an ordinary summer from that point of view. We will get as many people we can get there, provided it is safe,” he said.
“As important as the events are economically and for a sense of normality for people – the Australian Open tennis is a really big event for us – but we don’t want one event to necessarily set us back and cause us a problem.”
He also unveiled a $290 million funding package, which includes $100 million for the City of Melbourne and $87.5 million to councils and businesses outside of the CBD to make outdoor dining possible.
Mr Andrews wants to emulate New York’s Open Restaurants initiative, which has involved footpaths, laneways and streets being temporarily transformed into dining areas.
“They have been able to get their hospitality sector back to something approaching normal, faster than what would otherwise have been the case because they have used the footpath, kerbside parking and taken public space and turned it into pop-up cafes, restaurants, bars,” he said.
Elsewhere, chief health officer Brett Sutton remains concerned about the number of Victorians getting tested for the virus. Monday’s confirmed infections came from fewer than 9000 tests – well down from peaks of more than 20,000 at the height of the second wave.
“Today is not a day that is ideally meeting the testing numbers in terms of the 24-hour period reported beforehand,” Professor Sutton said.
Nine of Monday’s 35 cases came from just two Melbourne suburbs – Hallam and Narre Warren in the city’s outer south-east. Professor Sutton urged residents to get tested if they had any respiratory symptoms.
“Outbreaks will occur if you’re not testing and they will be detected as people turn up to hospital or detected as some of the most vulnerable become manifestly unwell,” he said.
“Testing is our pathway out of this and testing is the way to make sure that any restrictions that are in place are in place for the shortest possible time. Testing should be seen as the way out, more than anything.”
Professor Sutton said he expected Melbourne’s 14-day average of new infections to drop below 50 by the end of this week. Mystery cases have also fallen to about five a day.
Regional Victoria had no new infections on Monday, and its 14-day average was 3.9. Mr Andrews has flagged a further easing of virus measures outside Melbourne this week.