Victoria is pushing ahead with an extensive easing of virus rules, despite confirming two new locally acquired infections on Friday.
Among the biggest changes are to crowd numbers allowed in Melbourne sports stadiums.
The AFL has confirmed it will be allowed 50 per cent capacity at the MCG and Marvel Stadium from its first round.
That means up to 50,000 at the MCG for the Carlton-Richmond season-opener on March 18, and almost 29,000 in the crowd at the Docklands stadium.
“This announcement provides a big boost for our players and fans in the lead-up to the season,” AFL boss Gillon McLachlan said.
“Our team has been working extensively behind the scenes planning for multiple scenarios and all our venues will be ready to welcome fans back into the stands come next month.”
It will be the biggest crowd at an event in Victoria since 86,174 people watched the women’s Twenty20 World Cup final at the MCG in March 2020, just days before the pandemic first changed life in Australia.
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the announcement was “great news”.
“The AFL season is obviously starting quite soon and it will be something approaching normal, which is something Victorians have absolutely earned,” he said, as he also confirmed a wider return to “summer settings” across the state from midnight.
It includes removing mask requirements, except for settings such as larger shops and on public transport. Victorians will also be allowed 30 visitors to their homes, while gatherings of up to 100 will be allowed outside.
For workers, office capacity will be boosted to 75 per cent.
Density limits will also be eased in pubs, bars, cafes and beauty salons, although all will be required to use QR codes to record visitors. Shops will also be allowed more customers at once, and are encouraged to use QR codes.
Friday’s announcement came after the state health department said the two most recent COVID cases were close contacts of pre-existing patients, and had been in quarantine during their infectious period.
“They have been actually in hotel iso, because of their household circumstances,” Mr Andrews said.
“So they pose no risk to public health more broadly.”
A total of 24 cases have been traced back to a family of three staying on the third floor of the quarantine hotel in early February, who contracted the highly infectious British strain of the virus overseas.
About 3500 close contacts of the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport outbreak were placed in quarantine. Friday’s confirmation of two new infections came on the same day the last of them was due to finish their 14-day quarantine.
Fears the virus would spread to the community led to a five-day “circuit-breaker” lockdown, which ended on February 18.
Elsewhere, healthcare staff administered 808 doses of the Pfizer COVID-19 vaccine to frontline workers and hotel quarantine staff on Wednesday, bringing the number of shots administered in Victoria so far to 2063.
Meanwhile, anyone arriving in Melbourne from Auckland will be sent to mandatory hotel quarantine for 14 days due to a cluster of cases at an Auckland high school.
The health department is contacting people who have arrived from Auckland since Tuesday and telling them to get tested and quarantine immediately.
NSW’s 40-day milestone
House parties are back in NSW and rules about dancing and singing in public have eased as the state hits 40 coronavirus-free days.
There were no new local COVID-19 cases in NSW in the 24 hours to 8pm on Thursday, with four more uncovered in hotel quarantine.
From Friday, 50 people are allowed to gather inside NSW homes – up from 30 – and 50 people can participate in gym classes.
Weddings are still limited to 300 guests but up to 30 people – not just those in the bridal party – will be able to hit the dance floor at one time.
The cap on singers in choirs and congregations has also increased to 30 people and cinemas can operate at 100 per cent capacity.
“While household gathering restrictions have been eased, people are urged to remember COVID-19 can be transmitted more easily in crowded indoor settings,” NSW Health’s Dr Christine Selvey said on Friday.
“If holding gatherings at home, please use outdoor areas and well-ventilated spaces where available, and avoid overcrowding.”
Presuming no new virus outbreaks, St Patrick’s Day festivities on March 17 will resemble pre-COVID times, with revellers allowed to stand and drink at the bar.
Meanwhile, more than 5500 people received the COVID-19 jab in NSW in the first three days of the vaccine rollout.
NSW Health has also labelled Auckland a hotspot, with arrivals from the city ushered into 14 days of hotel quarantine or offered the option of returning to New Zealand.