News State Victoria News Outdoor gatherings return as freedoms loom for Melburnians

Outdoor gatherings return as freedoms loom for Melburnians

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Victoria's virus battle has been dealt a blow with a massive spike in cases on Thursday. Photo: Getty
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Victorians can pack their picnic baskets from Friday night, with Premier Daniel Andrews announcing a welcome easing of some virus rules for Melbourne and the regional centre of Ballarat.

Under the changes from 11.59pm on Friday, two people from different households will be allowed to meet for picnics, walks or other outdoor activities.

But, as with NSW, there will be differences for those who are fully vaccinated against COVID and those who aren’t. Up to five adults from two households, plus their dependents, will be able to gather outdoors under the changes announced on Thursday, as long as the adults have had two COVID shots.

People will also be able to exercise for four hours every day, the travel limit will be expanded from five kilometres to 10, outdoor gym equipment and skate parks will reopen, and personal training will be allowed for two people.

“We’re not overselling it. They are modest changes, but they are significant, and I’m sure people will avail themselves of those options. Options that have not been safe and denied to the community for many weeks now,” Mr Andrews said.

It came as he said Victoria was expected on Thursday to reach its target of 70 per cent of people over 16 having had a single vaccine.

“We will see from 11.59pm tomorrow night, into the weekend, we’ll see groups of people outside, enjoying each other’s company in a safe way,” Mr Andrews said.

“The groups are larger if you’re vaccinated fully because there’s protection that comes from being fully vaccinated.”

Victoria had another 514 local COVID-19 cases on Thursday – with the source of 366 yet to be traced.

It is the state’s highest daily tally since the peak of the state’s second wave in August 2020 and the new infections bring the total number of active cases in the current outbreak to 4370.

As cases spike across the state, tougher rules will also apply to construction workers.

There has been widespread transmission of the virus across the Victorian construction industry in recent weeks. From midnight next Thursday, construction site workers will be required to have had their first vaccination dose.

They will also be banned from crossing back and forth over the regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne boundary for work.

“This is what we must do to try to limit the number of cases,” Mr Andrews said.

“I don’t want to see with a situation where there are more Ballarats and Shepparton. Albury, for instance, the NSW government has had to have a lockdown there.”

Ballarat, in central Victoria, began a two-week lockdown at midnight Wednesday after the discovery of four cases this week. They included two in essential workers who have been travelling to Melbourne.

Three more cases were reported in Ballarat on Thursday, with more expected.

“We have seen many seeding events and transmission events that relate to construction – Ballarat is essentially one of those examples,” Mr Andrews said.

The government’s roadmap out of lockdown, outlining the state’s restrictions through to November, will be released on Sunday.

There are 182 COVID patients in Victorian hospitals. They include 51 in intensive care, 29 of those on ventilators.

The Australian Medical Association’s Victorian branch has said it is “reckless” for the state’s virus measures to ease until two weeks after 80 per cent of people over 12 are fully vaccinated.

“COVID-19 is putting unprecedented strain on Victoria’s healthcare system and now is not the time to open up,” Victorian AMA President Dr Roderick McRae said.

“AMA Victoria understands the implications of its policy but there are no simple solutions related to the management of COVID-19.

“This is simply the least bad option.”

-with AAP