Melbourne’s COVID-19 lockdown to lift on Friday as Victorian businesses push for ’snapback’

Melbourne will take its first small steps out of lockdown on Friday, as the Victorian government resists calls from business for a “snapback” to an open economy sooner.

The city’s lockdown will end at 11:59pm on Thursday and Melburnians will be able to leave their house more freely, but must remain within a 25-kilometre radius of their home.

Outdoor gatherings will be allowed with up to 10 people but home visits will remain barred.

While limited indoor dining will return at restaurants, gyms and other indoor sports settings will remain closed for at least another week.

The announcement about easing restrictions came as Victoria recorded one new locally acquired COVID-19 case on Tuesday.

Victoria’s Health Minister Martin Foley said the case was directly linked to Stratton Finance at Port Melbourne, and the person had been quarantining during their infectious period.

The new case was detected among 28,485 test results on Tuesday, as 19,533 vaccination doses were administered at state-run hubs.

Acting Premier James Merlino said the plan was to further ease restrictions again from 11:59pm on Thursday, June 17, and end the metro-regional divide.

“This is a good day, everyone should be absolutely proud of what we’ve all achieved together,” he said.

“Subject to the public health advice, the epidemiological conditions through the next week, we expect next Thursday night, the regional-metro divisions will come down and we’ll be able to travel more freely around the state again.”

News of the change in restrictions came as a Victorian woman, who travelled from Melbourne to the Sunshine Coast in Queensland, tested positive for COVID-19.

The woman left Victoria while the lockdown was in place.

Among the other announcements today, there will be a further $8.3 million in business grants to help those sectors which are not yet allowed to reopen, including gyms, dance studios and amusement parks.

The government will also make QR check-in compulsory at all workplaces “with very limited exceptions”.

“Previously, it’s only been mandatory for customer-facing businesses, but through this outbreak we have seen a number of cases occur in office settings so we want to take the next step on this,” Mr Merlino said.

The mandatory workplace QR check-in is expected to be introduced from Thursday next week.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said it was important to get back to zero cases.

“This started with one case in Wollert that has led to almost 100 cases over a period of a few weeks,” he said.

Business community complains Victoria is ‘crawling out’ of lockdown

The Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry’s chief executive Paul Guerra said while eased restrictions were welcome, it was “not the snapback we were hoping for”.

“We went fast in [to lockdown], but we are crawling out,” he said.

“While most businesses across the state can now open, we need to see further easing of restrictions to enable all businesses to get back to viable trade as soon as possible to keep jobs, businesses, livelihoods, culture and prosperity alive in Victoria.”

The chief executive of the Victorian Tourism Industry Council, Felicia Mariani, said the 25-kilometre travel bubble set to be imposed on Melburnians would be another blow to businesses in regional Victoria.

“For regional travel, 80 per cent of the visitation to our regional areas actually comes from people living in the Greater Melbourne area,” she told ABC Radio Melbourne.

“From a tourism point of view, when you shut down Greater Melbourne you really turn off the tap for the visitor economy in the whole state.”

Professor Sutton said while an absence of mystery cases in recent days was a good sign, Victoria’s outbreak remained “reasonably volatile”.

“The idea of a snapback to absolutely no restrictions whatsoever, no one’s done that after significant community transmission,” he said.

“So we have to move, by increments, safely, but with the minimum restrictions that we know will continue to control this.”

Lifting restrictions the right move, expert says

La Trobe University epidemiologist Hassan Vally said barring any surprises in daily case numbers, lifting restrictions was the right call.

“And unless there’s a spanner in the works, I think the health authorities should feel very confident about relaxing restrictions,” he said.

It’s the fourth lockdown for the state, and so the fourth time a path to eased restrictions is being plotted.

After the five-day snap lockdown in February, schools reopened, workplaces returned to 50 per cent capacity and gathering caps were slightly lifted.

It took until a month later for the state to move to the fully “COVID-normal” settings.

Investigations continue into Delta outbreak

Health authorities have not yet determined how the Delta strain of the virus moved from a man in hotel quarantine into the community.

Genomic testing had traced the outbreak to a man who arrived in Melbourne from Sri Lanka in May, but Professor Sutton said no breaches of quarantine protocol had been identified.

“But something’s happened and we need to try and get to that as much as possible, not just to see if there are close contacts that we need to run down now, but for any lessons around finding those gaps and those tiny improvements that might be made into the future,” he said.

Responding to a question about the number of hotel quarantine breaches in Victoria, compared to other jurisdictions, Professor Sutton said hotel quarantine was “not a perfect system”.

“It has gotten us to that state of community transmission that has made a world of difference on the global scale in terms of how we’ve managed to open up in Australia and how we’ve managed to protect so many Australians from long COVID, from dying.”

There are more than 1,100 primary close contacts linked to the West Melbourne cluster of cases, which involves the Delta variant.

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