Residents of regional Victoria will emerge from lockdown on Thursday night, with COVID case numbers dramatically falling.
Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the decision on Wednesday.
“Outbreaks have been brought under control. That’s a testament to the great work of our contact-tracers, our public health teams, but also the great work of regional Victorians over these recent weeks,” he said.
The regional centre of Shepparton, where authorities are still battling a recent COVID outbreak, will remain in lockdown – along with Melbourne.
“We would hope to have Shepparton catch up to the rest of regional Victoria some time next week and we’ll make those announcements as soon as we have tidied up the last bits of the outbreak there,” Mr Andrews said.
It came as Victoria confirmed 221 more local coronavirus cases, only 98 of which have been linked to known outbreaks.
Mr Andrews said 62.2 per cent of Victorians aged over 16 had had a first vaccine dose, while 38.6 per cent were fully vaccinated.
“We are ahead of our schedule in terms of our one million doses over five weeks. We got some 246,000 of those to go,” he said.
“We will beat the five-week mark and that’s fantastic news – and then we’ll set a new goal and a new target for even more vaccinations.”
From midnight Thursday, when the regional Victorian lockdown lifts, the five reasons to leave home will be gone, as will travel limits.
Schools will reopen for prep to grade two students and years 11 and 12, while businesses will also reopen. Workplaces can return to 25 per cent capacity – although people are asked to keep working from home if possible.
Mr Andrews also warned police patrols would be boosted on the boundary between Melbourne and country areas.
“If you are travelling into regional Victoria, you can expect to be pulled over – it won’t necessarily be every single car, but there’ll be number plate recognition technology used, there will be static presence of Victoria Police at different parts on major roads,” he said.
“Why would you take that risk? If you don’t have lawful reason to go to regional Victoria, then, please, do not go to regional Victoria. You’ll simply take the virus with you.”
The new rules will apply until at least the end of September. Mr Andrews again promised “modest easing” of virus rules once Victoria reached 70 per cent of first-dose vaccinations – with “judgments” for October and November in regional areas still to be determined.
Wednesday’s announcements came as Victoria Police confirmed they had fined six adults $5452 each, totalling $32,712, for attending a gathering of up to 30 people to mark the Jewish holiday of Rosh Hashanah, in breach of lockdown restrictions.
Assistant Commissioner Russell Barrett said more fines would be issued “today or in coming days”, as he urged those who attended the gathering to come forward.
“My advice is really clear to the people who were there last night – come forward, identify yourselves and allow us to process you through our systems and apply the law as it is today,” he said.
Up to 100 members of the Orthodox Jewish congregation were initially thought to have entered a building, believed to be a prayer room, near a Ripponlea synagogue early on Tuesday morning and told police they wouldn’t leave until nightfall.
Police covered the building’s front and back entrances and took details of those who began to file out just after 8pm.
Mr Barrett said police chose to wait outside the synagogue because there were many children present. When the doors finally opened, another group of people arrived to distract police.
“[That caused] us to then have to respond to that, which then sees a number of people in that venue, as I understand it now, to exit windows and flee over roofs of neighbouring properties,” he told Melbourne’s 3AW radio.
“It’s pretty appalling behaviour.”
Mr Barrett said the number who attended was still being investigated, but he had been advised it was “between 20 and 30”.
Several worshippers became aggressive and an overnight news cameraman is being treated for a concussion at The Alfred hospital after being assaulted.
Mr Barrett said the assault had been reported to police and would be investigated.
Police will remain in the area for the remainder of the Jewish new year, which ends after sundown on Wednesday.