The day exhausted Victorians have been counting down to has finally arrived.
More than 100 days after being plunged back into lockdown, Melbourne’s restrictions are set to ease. And the Government has promised more relaxed rules in the country, too.
Premier Daniel Andrews will hold today’s press conference at 11:00am AEDT.
He has warned the rules won’t ease quite as much as hoped. But recent success in suppressing the numbers means “significant steps” will be taken.
Remind me. What was in the original roadmap?
Under the original plan, nothing was actually meant to change in Melbourne today. The city was set to stay on the ‘second step’ of the roadmap until October 26.
But when case numbers started falling faster than expected, the Government brought forward the date for moving to the ‘third step’.
That, however, was contingent on the state recording fewer than five new daily cases, on average, and no more than five mystery cases over a period of two weeks.
Those targets haven’t quite been achieved — as of Saturday, the average daily case count was just above eight, and there were 17 mystery cases in Melbourne.
So the roadmap plan is no longer a reliable guide. But the original third step included:
- no more lockdown — stay-at-home orders lifting, so people could leave home for whatever reason
- gatherings of up to 10 people in public, outdoor spaces
- household bubbles, where Melburnians could create a social bubble with another household and allow five people from that household to visit their home
- retail, including hairdressing and some beauty services, reopening
- cafes, restaurants and bars reopening, but mainly for outdoor dining
- a staged return of outdoor non-contact sport for adults, and both contact and non-contact sport for kids
- outdoor fitness classes of up to 10 people
- up to 10 people at weddings and outdoor religious gatherings, and 20 at funerals
Mr Andrews says not all of that will happen now.
“We can’t just throw open all the doors, get rid of all the rules and run towards COVID normal,” the Premier said yesterday. “We have to do this in a safe and steady way.”
How does Victoria compare to elsewhere?
The old Melbourne-Sydney rivalry has been repeatedly re-invoked this week — mostly from Canberra.
Federal Health Minister Greg Hunt yesterday used Twitter to pressure Mr Andrews to move to restrictions to align with NSW, where rules eased further this week.
As of Friday, up to 500 Sydneysiders can attend a concert, 300 can go to a corporate event, and 150 can be at a wedding.
Hospitality venues can welcome one person for every two square metres outdoors, and one person for every four square metres indoors.
Indeed, NSW has consistently recorded higher daily case numbers than Victoria this week. But Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton yesterday pointed out NSW’s 14-day rolling average remained about half of Victoria’s.
The Premier prefers international comparisons. He says while Melburnians have earned the right to be optimistic about summer, countries in the Northern Hemisphere that relaxed rules too rapidly are now heading into a “deadly winter”.
“Look at France, look at England, look at the entirety of the US,” he said this week. “They are not coming out of restrictions, they are heading into lockdowns.”
Will the 5-kilometre travel rule be scrapped?
This is arguably the most talked-about, and controversial, restriction still in place in Melbourne.
The limit on movement to a 5km radius of a person’s home has been criticised by the Victorian Opposition and some experts, who say it is disproportionate to the threat.
But the Premier and Chief Health Officer say it’s helped to flatten the curve.
The most recent poll on the issue shows little support for the restriction remaining.
A Roy Morgan SMS poll of more than 1,000 Victorians this week found nearly three quarters wanted the restriction gone.
On October 5, Professor Sutton said he wasn’t sure if the 5km restriction would be lifted, but an extension to 10km was being considered.
Then on Thursday, Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said a 20km travel restriction was being looked at, with modelling being run on that option.
If you’re wondering what that would mean for you, take a look at our map.
On Friday, Premier Daniel Andrews said “all those matters are being looked at” when he was asked whether the 5km rule would be scrapped or changed.
But he added the ban on intrastate travel would definitely remain in place.
That’s a departure from the original roadmap for metropolitan Melbourne, which was to allow intrastate travel at this next step.
Will household bubbles be allowed?
Under the city’s roadmap, the third step allows for each household to create a “bubble” with one other household, allowing visits between the two homes.
We don’t yet know what, if any, bubble rules will be introduced.
The Premier did say this week that he was focusing on easing social, rather than business, restrictions.
“It is much more in the social space than in the economic space,” he said at Friday’s press conference, of the changes to come.
But he has also warned socialising in homes can be more dangerous than elsewhere, because people often let their guards down, remove their masks and don’t practise social distancing.
What about hospitality and retail?
For hospitality businesses in Melbourne, it appears unlikely Mr Andrews will announce significant changes.
Businesses have been operating as take-away only services, or have been completely closed, during the second lockdown.
But the Premier did not give business owners any cause for hope on Friday.
When asked about cafes and restaurants the Premier said: “I’ve tried to be very clear about the fact that it would not be safe for us to make those sorts of decisions.”
It is possible some outdoor dining will be allowed.
But hospitality industry leaders have been campaigning for cafes, restaurants and pubs to again be opened to indoor diners with COVID-safe plans, arguing many businesses can’t provide outdoor options and won’t survive longer restrictions.
Many in the retail industry are also pleading to be allowed to reopen — but Mr Andrews has been saying that may not be safe enough to do yet.
Will anything change for regional Victoria?
The Premier said on Friday there would be changes to the restrictions residents in regional Victoria are living with.
“There are opportunities for us to expand the settings in regional Victoria because numbers are very low and we will have more to say about that on Sunday,” he said.
“It won’t be all the rules are off … but there will be further safe steps that we can take in lots of different areas in regional Victoria because it’s a low-virus community.
The Premier said the “ring of steel” border between Melbourne and the regions would be strengthened to reduce the number of people travelling between the two areas.
This is also a departure from the original roadmaps, which only listed further restrictions easing in regional Victoria once the entire state recorded 14 days without any new cases.
It’s almost bushfire season. Will Melburnians be able to prepare their country properties?
The Premier has said there would be news on this front today.
“There will be rules,” he said. “It’s not a reason to go and travel outside metropolitan Melbourne and have a de facto few days off.”
On Friday, he said there would be a structured system, with penalties for people who abuse the rules.
When will the new rules take effect?
That’s not clear, but at least some changes are expected to be implemented from Monday, as scheduled in the roadmap.
And the Premier has hinted further changes could follow within a week or two.
“Tomorrow will be not every step we had hoped to take tomorrow,” Mr Andrews said yesterday.
“But we will have more to say about what the next weekend, and the weekend after that, looks like. And people will have the ability to plan.”
The original roadmap had Melbourne moving to the final step on November 23. That was to include outdoor gatherings of 50, and up to 20 in a home.
Retail, hospitality, intrastate travel and some large events were also part of that final step, ahead of moving to ‘COVID normal’ when there are no new cases for 28 days, no active cases and no “outbreaks of concern” interstate.
And what if numbers go up again? Could there be another lockdown?
This is what everyone is desperate to avoid, but nothing is guaranteed.
“It’s a perfectly legitimate question — what if three months goes by and we have X number of cases on a day?” the Premier said yesterday. But he didn’t answer.
“That’s not for today, that might not even be for tomorrow — but we will over the course of the next few weeks speak a bit more about that.”
He added that, when outbreaks are detected, more people are likely to be placed in isolation — including secondary contacts, or “contacts of contacts”.
That should help to prevent more widespread lockdowns.
“Those few hundred people [in isolation] essentially allow hundreds of thousands of others to be open and to go about their business,” the Premier said.