Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has lauded the vaccination efforts of his state after more freedoms were returned overnight, as he slammed the Prime Minister for “double speaking to extremists”.
Almost all Victoria’s remaining coronavirus restrictions lifted just before midnight on Friday, as the state inches closer to 90 per cent full vaccination in those aged over 12.
The changes mean double-dosed Victorians are able to dance in clubs, and home visitor limits, as well as cafe, bar and restaurant density caps, have been dumped.
“This is a fantastic day, Victorians have achieved something that is so special and I am very proud of them,” Mr Andrews told Nine’s Today Show on Friday morning.
Freedom day came at the state’s COVID numbers leapt to their highest number in nearly a week, with 1273. It came after 1007 on Thursday and a string of days with fewer than 1000.
There were also eight more fatalities. However, hospitalisation rates continue to fall, with 330 COVID patients in Victorian hospitals on Friday – down from 337 on Thursday.
The state government is also battling to get its pandemic legislation through the upper house after days of protests on parliament’s front steps.
Right-wing extremists have joined protesters, who chanted that they wanted to “hang” and “kill” Mr Andrews earlier this week.
On Thursday, Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that while he had no tolerance for violent protesters, it was time for state governments to step back and for “Australians to take their lives back”.
He then attacked state-imposed vaccine mandates, drawing criticism from leaders in Queensland and Western Australia.
On Friday, Mr Morrison again condemned the protests against Victoria’s pandemic laws, although he also doubled down on comments that people have had enough of government-imposed virus rules.
“I completely and totally continue to denounce any violence, any threat, any intimidation – and any suggestion that I have not done that is completely false,” Mr Morrison said.
“I don’t have sympathy for violence. I don’t have sympathy for intimidation or threats whatsoever.
“I have sympathies for Australians who have had a gutful of governments telling them what to do over the last two years.”
Mr Andrews said Mr Morrison was sending mixed messages to protesters, and he was annoyed focus had been taken away from Victoria’s renewed freedoms.
“It’s taken too long for people just to be straight. They’re sending mixed messages and that is dangerous,” he said.
“I don’t want anyone, whether it’s people who are weak leaders or extremists, to take away from what Victorians have built and sacrificed.”
Asked about his relationship with Mr Morrison, the Premier said: “It will be a lot better when he stops double speaking to extremists.”
Non-essential retail has joined Victoria’s vaccinated economy. Those who are unvaccinated and partially vaccinated are banned from visiting those shops, unless they are aged under 12 years and two months or have a valid exemption.
The Australian Retailers Association said retailers had been caught on the hop in the lead-up to a busy sales period and called for leniency in enforcing vaccine checks for customers.
“Retailers are having to scramble today to ensure they’re ready to comply with the new restrictions for tomorrow’s trade – well ahead of the original November 24 deadline,” chief executive Paul Zahra said.
While masks will no longer be required for customers visiting hospitality venues, workers must continue wearing them.
They must also be worn on public transport and in ride-shares or taxis, and will remain for a few more weeks in retail.
Indoor events will be allowed to host up to 30,000 attendees, but one-off approval is needed to exceed that capacity.
There are also major changes to isolation rules, including reducing the number of days positive cases must quarantine from 14 to 10.