Regional Victoria will skip ahead of Melbourne as the state reopens, with COVID restrictions to ease significantly from midnight on Wednesday.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews announced virus rules would relax for the state, outside of the city, after it had just one new coronavirus infection on Tuesday.
Victoria had 42 more COVID cases on Tuesday – 41 of them in Melbourne.
In another landmark, it was also the state’s first day without a coronavirus fatality since July 13. Victoria accounts for 729 of Australia’s 816 coronavirus deaths.
Melbourne’s rolling 14-day average of new COVID cases – which must hit 50 before Stage 4 restrictions will ease further – fell to 52.9 with Tuesday’s cases.
In regional Victoria – where Mr Andrews had already flagged that rules were likely to relax this week – the average is 3.6.
“It is a massive thing. It is a very positive thing,” he said.
“It is something we should all be very pleased about, and proud of the job that regional Victorians have done.”
Elsewhere, NSW confirmed seven new COVID cases on Tuesday. Three are overseas travellers in hotel quarantine, one is from Victoria in hotel quarantine, two are locally acquired and linked to known cases or clusters, while the other is still being investigated.
Queensland had one more infection, in a returned overseas traveller.
Among the renewed freedoms regional Victorians will enjoy from Wednesday night:
- All restrictions on leaving home will be removed
- Outdoor public gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed outdoors
- Households will be able to create “bubbles” with another nominated house, allowing up to five visitors from that household at a time (infants under 12 months are excluded from totals)
- Most workplaces will reopen
- Restrictions on businesses and visitors regarding caps on numbers, physical distancing and wearing of masks remain
Schools in country Victoria will also have a staggered start to term four, while businesses such as beauty parlours and tattooists will be able to open if masks can be worn for the whole service.
Community sport will return for children, while non-contact sport will be permitted for adults.
Hospitality businesses will also be allowed to reopen, with strict limits on the numbers of people served and how long they can stay.
- See regional Victoria’s full road map out of restrictions here
“I’m not for a moment pretending that many wouldn’t like that number to be much higher,” Mr Andrews said.
“This is a big step, a very, very big step today. But it is a safe step.
And one that can strike that balance between more economic activity, more money in the till, more people back at work, but not risking having to close down again, not risking frittering away all the hard work that regional Victorians have done.”
Melbourne also took its first tentative steps out of lockdown on Monday, with those living alone or single parents allowed to have one visitor, outdoor exercise extended to two hours and curfew’s start time extended an hour to 9pm.
But it must wait until at least September 28 before it moves any further – as well as get the average of new cases down to 50.
Mr Andrews said the reopening of country areas, particularly allowing indoor dining in pubs and restaurants, offered promise for the city’s path out of lockdown.
“I think there will be a very important demonstration process for what might be possible in metro Melbourne,” he said.
“I can’t commit to that today because it needs to be monitored. [But] as I said, this is a hopeful day, this is a positive day.”