Victoria extends lockdown for another week, but offers reprieve for regional residents

Melbourne, Australia, 17 April, 2020. Normally full of cafe goers at lunch hour, the Yarra Banks remain empty during the Coronavirus Crisis in Melbourne, Australia. Credit: Dave Hewison

The Victorian government has announced that the state’s current lockdown will last for another seven days in Melbourne, but some restrictions will ease for regional residents.

Victoria’s acting Premier, James Merlino, announced earlier today that the state now has 60 local cases of COVID-19 and more than 350 exposure sites, along with a variant of the virus that is “quicker and more contagious than we’ve seen before”.

“To date, the approach has been to track the spread through friends, family and workmates. People spending time together for minutes and hours – not seconds,” he said.

“What we’re seeing now is something else – something even more serious. At least one in 10 current cases have caught this virus from a stranger.

“People brushing against each other in a small shop. Getting a take-away coffee from the same cafe. Being in the same place, at the same time for mere moments.

“Just walking past someone you’ve never met can mean the virus is jumping to a whole new network.”

Based on the advice of Victoria’s Chief Health Officer, Brett Sutton, Merlino said current restrictions will remain in place in Melbourne for a further seven days, with some small changes.

“This will give us a full 14 days – one full cycle of the virus – to make sure we understand how and where this mutation is moving,” he said.

For Melbourne, there will still be only five reasons to leave home: shopping for food and supplies, authorised work and study, care and caregiving, exercise and getting vaccinated.

People will be able to travel further for exercise and shopping, with an expanded 10-kilometre radius.

Kids in Year 11 and 12 will return to face-to-face learning, and a number of outdoor jobs will be added to the authorised list such as landscaping, painting, installing solar panels or letterboxing.

Other restrictions – including mask wearing – will stay the same.

“At the end of another seven days, we want to be in a position to begin carefully easing restrictions for Melbourne,” Merlino said.

“But I need to be upfront that even if all goes well, we won’t be able to have people from Melbourne travelling to regional Victoria over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend. The risk of exporting the virus is just too high.”

With no community transmission in regional Victoria this week, Merlino said regional restrictions are proposed to begin easing from 11:59pm tomorrow night.

All year levels and all students in regional Victoria will return to face-to-face schooling, and public gatherings will be increased to 10 people.

Restaurants and cafés can reopen to a maximum of 50 people. Retail, beauty and personal care, entertainment venues and community facilities will also open in line with density limits.

Religious ceremonies and funerals will be capped at 50 people, and weddings at 10 people. Offices will be capped at 50 per cent.

Visitors to the home are still not permitted in regional Victoria under the eased restrictions, and masks will still need to be worn inside.

Regional Victorians will be able to travel in regional Victoria, but Melburnians will not.

Building on the Victorian government’s $250.7 million support package announced last Sunday, a new allocation of up to $209.3 million will flow to small and medium-sized businesses, taking the total support package to $460 million.

Up to 90,000 businesses will benefit from the original support. About 70,000 of these businesses located in metropolitan Melbourne will be affected by the extension of restrictions beyond Thursday 3 June and will be eligible for the new support.

The state government said details on the $20 million Events Support Package for operators in the events industry who have incurred losses due to restrictions will be provided shortly.

Featured image source: iStock/DavidHewison

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