Melbourne to reopen after more than four months of Covid lockdown

By Josh Taylor

The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has declared “now is the time to open up” as Melbourne’s extended lockdown ends, and the state plans to reopen retail, pubs, restaurants and other businesses.

On the day no cases were recorded for the first time in close to 20 weeks, Andrews announced an end to the stay-at-home order from Tuesday midnight.

“Now is the time to congratulate every single Victorian for staying the course. Now is the time to thank every single Victorian family for being guided by the data, the science and the doctors, not letting our frustration get the better of us but, instead, proving equal to this wicked enemy. Indeed, better than this wicked enemy.”

All retail, beauticians and tattoo parlours will be allowed to reopen, in line with Covid-safe plans.

Cafes, bars and restaurants will be allowed to reopen with indoor seating of up to 20, outdoor up to 50, and recordkeeping and Covid-safe plans in place.

Weddings can be held with a maximum of 10 people, and funerals can have a maximum of 20 people. Outdoor religious ceremonies can accommodate up to 20 people, or 10 indoors.

Outdoor personal training and fitness will be allowed to have a maximum of 10 people.

People will also be allowed to gather in groups of 10, excluding infants, from any number of households.

Outdoor entertainment venues can open up, as can libraries and community venues.

People will no longer need a permitted worker form to go to work in Melbourne, but people who can work from home must continue to do so.

People who travel across the ‘ring of steel’ between Melbourne and regional Victoria will still need a permitted worker form.

Andrews said an announcement on indoor gatherings in people’s homes would come on Tuesday. He said the timing would be the same, but because Covid-19 is often transmitted within homes, the government wants to wait a day before finalising the plan.

Andrews said it wouldn’t be a bubble system as had been operated for single people who live alone.

“We do not want to do a bubble because we think that can be a particularly confusing set of arrangements for families, but we have not quite settled and we must understand, the most dangerous environment for the spread of this virus is in your home,” he said.

“When you have visitors you let your guard down and they go back to their house, they have visitors and all of a sudden there are chains of transmission that spread silently and very quickly.”

He said the policy would be “as fundamentally compassionate as possible, so people can connect with those they love the most, the people they miss the most. That is for tomorrow and we will speak to that in some detail.”

The ‘ring of steel’ will remain in place until 8 November, as will the 25km travel limit, but Andrews said after this point Melbourne would align with the rest of Victoria in terms of restrictions.

That would mean pubs and restaurants will be able to have 40 inside, and 70 outside, and gyms and indoor fitness will reopen with a strict one person per eight square metre and 20 people per venue rule in place.

Andrews had planned to announce the easing of restrictions on Sunday but said there needed to be a “cautious pause” on announcements while more than 3,000 test results were processed from Melbourne’s northern suburbs.

An outbreak that originated from a healthcare worker at a hospital in Box Hill spread to a family whose child attended the East Preston Islamic college while infectious. There have now been 39 cases connected to this outbreak.

Victoria’s head of contact tracing, Jeroen Weimar, rejected reports the family was given the all-clear to return the child to school, stating the letter was just one part of a “a chain of almost daily discussions, telephone calls, meetings” over a number of weeks with the family.

“We have been very clear, we absolutely accept there may have been a misunderstanding, but the information provided is accurate and to the point,” he said.

Monday is the first time Victoria has reported no new cases since 9 June.

Andrews said the quick turnaround of test results and contact tracing in the northern Melbourne outbreak showed the system was now up to the task.

“You do not pull up an outbreak like the one we are dealing with if you have a delay.”

There are just 91 active cases in the entire state.

When lockdown measures were first brought in, Andrews famously said then was not the time to “get on the beers”. When asked whether now was the time to get on the beers, Andrews said he “might go a little higher up the shelf”.

“This has been a very difficult year. And Victorians have given a lot and I’m proud of every single one of them.”

Elsewhere, New South Wales reported one new locally acquired case of Covid-19, and three new cases among returned travellers in hotel quarantine.

Queensland reported no new cases as the state entered the final days of its election.

Tasmania also opened up its borders to every state and territory bar Victoria and NSW.

Andrews said he would talk with his South Australian and NSW counterparts about their border restrictions to Victoria, and said he expected regional Victorians to be able to travel into those states without restrictions soon.

“There were discussions on Friday at national cabinet and we have all signed up to that, the notion of that being there by the end of the year, and we will get regional Victoria opened in NSW and South Australia as soon as we can, that is likely to occur before necessarily Melbourne opens up to those states,” he said.

“Although I have said this many times but the one thing we could do – and we have – is get our numbers down and that gives others the comfort that they need to be able to open up.”