Melbourne lockdown extended another week, more business support incoming

Melbourne lockdown extended another week, more business support incoming

Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton

As health authorities in Victoria scramble to manage a variant of COVID-19 that is more contagious than any other seen in the state, the lockdown has been extended in Melbourne for an extra seven days.

A 'ring of steel' will be introduced keeping the capital separate from regional Victoria, where several restrictions will be eased from 11.59pm tomorrow.

To soften the blow on businesses, a further $209 million support package will be delievered this week, on top of $250 million in existing support.

The Business Costs Assistance Program is being increased from $2,500 to $5,000 in total (or $2,500 per lockdown week). There will also be a $28 million increase to the Licensed Hospitality Fund with grants under the program to be beefed up from $3,500 to $7,000.

The state's Treasurer Tim Pallas has been in contact with his Federal counterpart Josh Frydenberg seeking the implementation of JobKeeper-style payments to see Melburnians through the next week. Acting Premier James Merlino is expected to meet with Prime Minister Scott Morrison later today to discuss the issue.

The State Government is also expanding its Service VIC QR code system to be mandatory at all retail outlets across the entire state.

The news comes as Victoria records six new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 today, bringing the total connected to this latest outbreak to 60.

With more than 350 exposure sites, and only two per cent of the state's population fully vaccinated, Merlino said easing lockdown in the capital would result in a disaster.

"If we let this run its course it will explode," Merlino said

"If that happens, it's our most vulnerable, it's our parents, it our grandparents...it's those Victorians that will pay the price."

While restrictions are expected to ease in regional Victoria, Health Minister Martin Foley noted there had been new unexpected detections in particular in Bendigo and the Mornington Peninsula.

The issue of casual transmission also remains a concern to Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.

"This variant of concern is starting to show up in places where normally it would be less likely. So the Brighton Beach Hotel, that was an outdoor dining setting, well ventilated, you wouldn't expect transmission to occur," Sutton said.

"We still had it as an exposure site, we still informed people to test and isolate until returning a negative, but in fact all of those people will need to be in quarantine because transmission has occurred there. 

"That's not something that we routinely see, and we didn't routinely see it in 2020, but we have to bear in mind that all the variants of concern now are really a step up to some degree."

The variant of concern in this particular outbreak, the 'Kappa' variant, is also more infectious than any strain seen in Melbourne to date, according to Sutton.

"This Kappa variant, as it's now called, is not the most infectious, but it is more infectious than anything we saw in the beginning and middle of 2020," Sutton said.

"At least one in 10 current cases have caught this virus in those casual contact settings, so not the workplace, at-home, close contact settings where we know and expect transmission to occur.

"I have described it as an absolute beast, because we have to run it down to the ground. There are a dozen countries that had no community transmission going into 2021 that have now lost control, that have community transmission and will probably not bring it back to a point where they've got no community transmission again."

Lockdown extended for Melbourne

Current restrictions in Melbourne will remain in place for a further seven days with some small changes.

The five reasons to leave the home stay the same: shopping for food and supplies, authorised work and study, care and caregiving, exercise, and getting vaccinated.

However, Melburnians are permitted to travel a bit further - within a 10km radius of their home.

Year 11 and 12s will return to face to face learning from 11.59pm tomorrow, and a number of outdoor jobs have been added to the authorised list including landscaping, painting, installing solar panels, and letterboxing.

Mask wearing remains mandatory.

"At the end of another seven days we do expect to be in a position to ease restrictions in Melbourne," Merlino said.

"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."

Restrictions to ease in regional Victoria

The state government is planning on easing restrictions in regional VIC from tomorrow.

That means lifting the travel restrictions and the 'five reasons', and all year levels and all students will return to face-to-face schooling.

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

In addition religious ceremonies and funerals will be capped at 50, weddings at ten.

Regional Victorians will be permitted to travel anywhere in the state except for into Melbourne, and all businesses outside of the capital must check the IDs of patrons to keep the community safe. 

Updated at 12.21pm AEST on 2 June 2021.

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