Premier Daniel Andrews has announced regional Victoria is on track to ease coronavirus restrictions in a matter of days as cases across the state continue to plummet.
Victoria marked its ninth day in a row of double digit figures on Saturday with just 37 new coronavirus cases – its lowest daily increase since June 26.
The promising decline in cases comes after Victoria saw 43 new cases on Friday, 51 on Thursday and 76 on Wednesday.
The state also reported six additional fatalities, taking the state death toll to 716 and the national figure to 803.
Mr Andrews said there are only 58 active coronavirus infections in regional Victoria and no new cases since Friday’s update.
He remains hopeful the Stage Three restrictions will be eased by the middle of next week, allowing regional Victoria to be ‘essentially open’.
‘Regional Victoria remains on track to be open to take not one but two steps,’ Mr Andrews said on Saturday.
Premier Daniel Andrews has announced regional Victoria is on track to ease coronavirus restrictions in a matter of days
Mr Andrews said there are only 58 active coronavirus infections in regional Victoria and no new cases since Friday’s update. Pictured: Health workers conduct COVID-19 tests in Ballarat on August 21
‘That is proof positive to every single Victorian that we can drive these numbers down and we can open up and do it safely.
‘I want to congratulate and thank every single regional Victorian for the part they are playing on that.’
Mr Andrews said the 14-day new case average dropped to 61.6 in metropolitan Melbourne and 4.3 in regional Victoria.
‘It is very good news for regional Victoria and I hope every single person in metro Melbourne is looking to the numbers in regional Victoria and seeing what can be delivered,’ the premier said.
‘Regional Victoria is so close, just a few days and they will potentially be able to take not just a single step but two of those steps and be essentially open.’
The premier also announced some changes to his roadmap out of lockdown.
When Melbourne enters their second step on September 29, pet groomers will be able to provide contactless service to their animals.
‘Pet owners will be able to drop off their pets to the venue,’ he said.
Following further consideration, Mr Andrews said beauty and personal services where a mask can be worn the whole time will be allowed to proceed in the step three alongside hairdressers.
This could be as early as October 26.
But beauty services where a mask can’t be worn – such as facials, face tattoos and face piercings – will not be included under the changes.
Duty and personal services were previously listed to open up in Melbourne under the last step of the roadmap.
Pictured: Two women wear face masks as they walk in Ballarat, Victoria, on August 21
Despite the promising decline in infections, Mr Andrews stood by his draconian curfew in Melbourne.
Under Stage Four restrictions, the premier suggested there was only two things Melburnians would want to do after 8pm – to go for a run or go shopping.
But Mr Andrews suggested they could be done before the curfew and that supermarkets had been shutting earlier than normal throughout the pandemic.
‘If you have got a work permit, curfew doesn’t apply. If you need urgent care, curfew doesn’t apply,’ he said.
‘If you want to go for a jog at midnight, sorry, you can’t. If you want to go shopping at midnight, sorry, you can’t,’ he said.
The premier suggested further announcements would be made about roadmap restrictions throughout the week ahead.
He remains hopeful Christmas will be as normal possible.
Victoria has recorded 37 new coronavirus cases and six deaths. Pictured: Melburnians exercise on Friday
It comes as Paul Little, the chairman of the state government’s own COVID-19 Advisory Group, said the state’s coronavirus restrictions created ‘unintended consequences’.
‘Most of the industry and community contacts I have spoken to recently agree that using a ‘blunt tool’ of minimising social interaction throughout Victoria has created many unintended consequences,’ he told AFR Weekend.
Mr Little’s role involves supplying ‘real time intelligence from key community and business sectors’ to the government’s strategic decision makers.
He warned small businesses are likely to bear the brunt of the COVID-19 lockdown.
‘Currently within Victoria, the small to medium enterprises (SME) sector is under severe pressure and many of these businesses will not resume operations when lifting of restrictions occurs as per the road map,’ he said.
Mr Little said the announcement of Victoria’s roadmap last Sunday meant the government needed to urgently address high risk COVID-19 transmission areas, while identifying and relaxing rules in lower risk locations.
A man and a woman go for a walk during lockdown in Williamstown in Melbourne on Friday
Top QC Michael Wyles has also questioned the validity of the coronavirus curfew imposed on Melbourne by Mrl Andrews.
Mr Wyles said the 8pm to 5am curfew, brought in as part of the city’s Stage Four restrictions, had not been authorised under state law.
‘There is no legal basis for the curfew,’ he told The Australian.
Legislation allows health officials to make emergency orders to protect the public but Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has revealed he did not seek the curfew.
Premier Andrews instead said the restriction had been ‘about enforcement’.
Mr Wyles’ pointed out the potential flaw in the curfew as assisting law enforcement was not a valid reason to enact emergency health orders.
‘It is invalid and everyone can ignore it because the direction is not, according to what Sutton said yesterday, for the purpose of eliminating or reducing the risk of COVID,’ Mr Wyles said.
Pictured: People in face masks are seen walking through Melbourne’s CBD on Wednesday
The number of fresh diagnoses on Saturday continued good news as the state moves closer to easing restrictions on travel and lifestyle, but Melbourne expects to see more anti-lockdown protest action on Saturday.
Regional Victoria could move out of restrictions as early as next week, Premier Daniel Andrews indicated.
Michael Wyles said the 8pm to 5am curfew, brought in as part of Melbourne’s Stage Four restrictions, had not been authorised under state law
‘We are poised to be able to take not just one but potentially two steps as early as next week,’ he said.
To progress to the third step of its recovery plan, regional Victoria must have a daily case average of five or less across 14 days and record no cases with an unknown source.
Melburnians remain subject to a lockdown curfew between 8pm and 5am, with Mr Andrews standing strong in the face of federal government criticism.
The Melbourne Freedom Walk is scheduled for Saturday on the edge of Melbourne’s Botanical Gardens, according to social media. There may also be protests in other locations.
It is unknown how many people are expected to participate, given the original event was taken down earlier in the week by Facebook.
An anti-lockdown rally was held at the Shrine of Remembrance last weekend resulting in 17 arrests and more than 160 fines being issued for breaching health directions.
The city’s fortnightly average for daily infections must fall to 50 or lower before some workplaces and schools can reopen from September 28.
MELBOURNE’S ROADMAP OUT OF COVID-19 LOCKDOWN – WHAT YOU WILL BE ABLE TO DO AND WHEN:
Step one: The first step will come in to place on September 13.
Step two: The second step will be implemented when Melbourne has 30-50 COVID-19 cases a day on average over the past 14 days. The aim is for this to come into place on September 28.
Step three: The move to step three will occur when there is a daily statewide average of five new cases over the past 14 days. The aim is for this to come into place on October 26.
Step four: The move to step four will come when there have been no new COVID-19 cases in the past 14 days. The aim is for this to come into place on November 23.
COVID Normal: After 28 days of no new COVID-19 cases, things will return to normal.
Step one – 11.59pm on September 13:
– Curfew will be eased to 9pm-5am
– People can still only leave home for the four reasons (shopping, exercise, work and care or medical attention)
– Public gatherings increased to two people, or a household, for a maximum of two hours
– Singles can have one nominated person to their home as part of the ‘singles social bubble’
– Childcare and early educators to remain closed
– Schools will continue to learn remotely unless they have exemptions
– Adult education to continue to be done remotely, unless they have exemption
– Only go to work if you are in a permitted industry
– Cafes and restaurants will continue with take away only
– Retail businesses will remain open for essential shopping, with others only operating with click and collect
– Only one person per household can do the essential shopping
Step two – September 28:
– Public gatherings increase again to five people from a maximum of two households
– Childcare and early educators can re-open
– Schools to continue with remote learning, but Prep to Grade Two and Year 11 and Year 12 students will gradually return to class in Term 4
– There will be an increase to permitted workplaces
Step three – October 26:
– Curfew is no longer in place
– There are no restrictions on leaving home
– Public gatherings increase to 10 people together outdoors
– A ‘household bubble’ will be introduced, so five people from one house can visit another
– Remote learning to continue, but Grades 3 to Year 11 can gradually return to class
– Adult education to continue to be done remotely, but hands on classes will see a phased return to onsite
– Work from home is encouraged
– Up to 10 people can eat together at restaurants and cafes, with the majority of tables outdoor
– Retail shops to reopen, with hairdresses operating under safety measures but beauty stores to remain closed
– Real estate agents can conduct private inspections by appointment
– The one person per household limit on shopping is to be revoked
Step four – November 23:
– Public gatherings to increase to 50 people outdoors
– Up to 20 visitors can attend a home at any one time
– All adult education will return to onsite with safety measures in place
– Groups limited to 20 indoors and a maximum of 50 patrons per venue
– All retail stores to reopen, while real estate agents can operate with safety measures and by keeping a record of attendants
Step five – COVID normal:
– Public gatherings have no restriction
– There will also be no restriction on visitors to homes
– Phased return to onsite work for work from home workers
– Schools to reopen as normal
– Restrictions on hospitality removed, but venues to continue keeping records