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Melbourne’s sixth coronavirus lockdown could be eased on Thursday to allow small outdoor gatherings and a slight relaxation of restrictions after government ministers and public-health officials met to decide how to mark the state’s latest vaccination milestone.
Victoria is expected to hit its 70 per cent first-dose vaccine target one week ahead of schedule on Thursday. That number was cited by Premier Daniel Andrews as the point at which he would announce some “modest” changes to restrictions.
Premier Daniel Andrews speaking to reporters on Wednesday. Credit:Eddie Jim
After a day in which Victoria recorded 423 new cases but also surpassed the goal of 1 million jabs within five weeks, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton’s public-health team met senior ministers on Wednesday night to discuss potential changes to be announced on Thursday.
Professor Sutton said Melbourne’s case numbers seemed to have stabilised in the past few days, but the “risk of it getting to 1000 [per day] is real”.
Changes being considered included extending restrictions on movement from five to 10 kilometres from home, an increase to the two-hour time limit on exercise and reopening outdoor gyms and skate parks.
Mr Andrews said his government may wait until Sunday to implement some changes, when he plans to reveal the state’s long-term road map out of lockdown. That would, however, represent a departure from his pledge a fortnight ago to ease rules as soon as Victoria hit 70 per cent first-dose coverage.
Speaking earlier on Wednesday, Mr Andrews said he remained intent on “the notion of extra time and extra distance to be able to travel for exercise”, which he admitted were “modest” changes.
“If we can go further than that with some social interaction as well, we’ll get those announcements made as soon as possible … it may well be that if we roll all this together in the road map on, say, Sunday, we can do more because we’ve settled on the full context,” Mr Andrews said.
The positive news for Melburnians came as Ballarat was plunged back into lockdown to prevent an outbreak spilling into regional Victoria.
Ballarat will go into a seven-day lockdown.Credit:Penny Stephens
A seven-day lockdown of the city of about 100,000 was set to begin on Wednesday night after it recorded four cases, with more expected in coming days.
Ballarat will be the only regional community under tight restrictions after Mr Andrews confirmed Shepparton was being released from its lockdown following three successive days without any new cases.
Two of Ballarat’s positive cases were authorised workers, while another two were household contacts of a case announced on Tuesday.
Mr Andrews said it was crucial the Ballarat outbreak was contained to protect surrounding communities.
Shepparton will be released from lockdown after containing a coronavirus outbreak. Credit:Joe Armao
“If we have cases get away from us in any one part of regional Victoria, then it will ultimately compromise all of regional Victoria remaining open.”
Mr Andrews said more vaccines would be sent to Ballarat, which has a single-dose vaccination rate of about 70 per cent.
He confirmed additional testing services would be established but only for people with symptoms rather than moving to asymptomatic tests.
“But we will expand sites. We will expand operational hours. We’ll make it even easier to go and get tested.”
Mr Andrews said Shepparton’s successful containment of a major outbreak gave authorities confidence that Ballarat could do the same. Authorities believe it’s likely there has been transmission for at least a week in Ballarat.
On Tuesday, The Forge Pizzeria, Lake View Hotel and Big W in Ballarat were listed as tier-one exposure sites.
Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney, himself isolating because he had visited the pizza restaurant, said there had already been strong demand for testing at the city’s three sites. But he said the lockdown was little surprise.
“When people saw those locations on the exposure site list, everyone was fairly resigned to the fact that it will get worse before it gets better,” he said.
Cr Moloney said Ballarat had looked to Shepparton for lessons on managing a Delta outbreak. The council had split its Meals on Wheels service, so teams were working in separate locations and made similar changes to its waste collection.
Authorities also hold concerns about other communities in regional Victoria after virus fragments were detected in sewerage at Aireys Inlet and Fairhaven on the Surf Coast. Barwon Health will set up additional testing services amid calls for people to come forward if they have symptoms.
Professor Sutton said he was worried about the Surf Coast where at least two exposure sites have been listed in recent days. “It’s always a concern to have a signal that might indicate a positive undetected case,” he said.
Another infection was recorded in Geelong – a primary close contact of an existing case and there were two more cases in the Mitchell Shire.
Victorian Opposition Leader Matthew Guy called for a series of immediate changes to the state’s COVID-19 restrictions, including lifting Melbourne’s curfew, allowing small outdoor family gatherings, getting year 11 and 12 students back to school this week and bringing interstate Victorians home.
Opposition Leader Matthew Guy.Credit:Chris Hopkins
However, Mr Guy, in his second week back as leader, was forced to clarify his position after the first point on his media release demanded to “end the lockdown”.
He said at his press conference this was a reference to the 9pm curfew, which he said was enforced without medical advice.
“I think all of us understand there are ways we can make changes today. If the government has a grand plan for Sunday, that’s fine. Victorians are looking for something. There are changes we can make today,” Mr Guy said.
The Opposition Leader also threw his support behind Ombudsman Deborah Glass’ announcement she would investigate Victoria’s border permit application process, saying all families interstate should be allowed to quarantine at home.
“Victorians shouldn’t be allowed to be languishing in the state, that’s completely unfair,” Mr Guy said.
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