The Victorian government has defended its plan to allow 10,000 people to attend the Melbourne Cup in just over three weeks – while visits to private homes will remain off-limits.
The state government announced its plan to return crowds to Flemington on November 2 on Sunday.
There might also be similar crowds at later Spring Racing Carnival events – as long as Victoria reaches its target of 80 per cent of over-16s fully vaccinated against the virus. That is expected by about November 3.
But until the target is met, millions of Victorians will be barred from having family members or friends to their homes for dinner.
“In regulated settings throughout the global pandemic, particularly in Australia, we know that if you have a COVID-safe plan in place, if you have bubble arrangements, if you have active co-operation of responsible partners … that you will have a safe event,” Health Minister Martin Foley said on Monday.
“We’ve seen throughout the course of their pandemic that it’s in private settings that we let our guard down.”
Victoria confirmed 1612 new local COVID cases and eight deaths on Monday. It was the lowest daily case number in five days, and came after 1890 infections on Sunday and 1965 on Saturday.
The state has 19,012 active coronavirus cases.
The toll from the state’s Delta outbreak has risen to 93, with the deaths of two women in their 70s and six men aged from their 40s to their 80s. All were from Melbourne.
As of Sunday, 86 per cent of eligible Victorians were partially vaccinated.
The Melbourne Cup crowd will be part of a trial of new technology that checks a patron’s vaccination status before allowing entry to an event. It will follow a live music event at Sidney Myer Music Bowl on October 30 – but both will go ahead regardless of where Victoria is on its vaccination progress.
“Ten thousand Victorians as a part of the trial of the vaccinated economy program, will be there to see the race that stops a nation and in this instance, starts Victoria’s recovery,” Mr Foley said.
He said the Cup crowd would be just 10 per cent of the capacity at Flemington Racecourse.
“This is a safe, sustainable, reopening that makes sure that our important events, our big iconic events, can go forward and demonstrate to the world that we can safely and cautiously reopen.”
He dismissed criticisms that the racing carnival had been unfairly prioritised, and said private gatherings in private settings remained the riskiest during the pandemic.
Victoria Racing Club chairman Neil Wilson welcomed the government’s announcement.
“It’s certainly better than zero which is what we had last year,” he told the ABC.
Mr Wilson said the VRC was still trying to decide how it would choose who could attend, but confirmed the club’s 30,000 members would be the first to be offered tickets.
From Monday, the vaccine status technology is being trialled across Victoria, with 14 regional venues – including gyms, pubs and churches – involved.
Patrons will be asked to show they are fully vaccinated by displaying a digital certificate via the Services Victoria app, Medicare app or smartphone wallet.
By 10am on Monday, more than 50,000 people had successfully connected their vaccination certificates to their Service Victoria app, with 4390 added within 10 minutes when demand hit a peak.
A printed version of the certificate or immunisation history statement can also be used as proof, or the patron will need to show evidence of a valid exemption.
Elsewhere, Victorians aged over 60 can now get any COVID vaccine, including Pfizer and Moderna, at all of the the state’s vaccination hubs.
Mr Foley said there was enough vaccine supply in Victoria to immediately open up all brands to all eligible ages.
“This change, which is now in effect, has been made possible by the relative certainty we now have for both Moderna and Pfizer, and the extraordinary number of young people who have come forward over the past three and a half weeks,” he told reporters.
Previously people over 60 were only able to receive the AstraZeneca vaccine at state hubs.
The change comes after the federal government widened access to mRNA vaccines for those over 60 at the start of this month.
The number of people in Victorian hospital continues to rise, with 677 patients including 133 in intensive care, 94 of whom are on a ventilator.