Victoria to take "cautious" approach to relaxing COVID-19 restrictions until June

Victoria to take "cautious" approach to relaxing COVID-19 restrictions until June

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews is cautiously relaxing COVID-19 restrictions, emphasising complacency could result in the virus getting out of control.

The State will relax gathering restrictions from 11:59pm on Tuesday night, enabling five guests to visit a household.

Unlike in other states, cafés, restaurants and bars will remain closed.

"At just 10 patrons the feedback has been pretty overwhelming, that that's not a model that is viable," says Andrews. 

"If we wait those three weeks when we move to go beyond just takeaway for cafés and restaurants, we might not have to stick with a number of 10. We might be able to go higher than that," he says.

For those working arrangements the message is the same: if you can work from home, keep doing so.

Other new rules include:

  • for outdoor activities like hiking, fishing, playing golf etc, groups must be restricted to no more than 10 people;
  • weddings will now be able to have 10 guests;
  • and up to 20 people will be able to attend funerals held indoors and up to 30 if they're outdoors.

These latest measures will remain in place until the end of May at the earliest and demonstrates Victoria's reluctance to follow in the footsteps of other States.

"There is a real need to be cautious," says Andrews.

"There is a need for us to take a small first step and be vigilant in following a new set of rules. This is not over. I wish it was, but it is not over.

"You only get one chance to do this right, unless of course you're prepared to settle for this stop start, rules changing, restrictions on and off, lockdowns, coming out of lockdowns, going back into lockdown. That hasn't worked in other countries and it certainly would not work here."

Andrews says restrictions on cafés, restaurants and pubs need to stay in place for now, to both stop the spread of COVID-19 and to ensure the future viability of businesses in the State.

"There will be a gradual opening up of the economy, a gradual relaxation of these rules, but each step, and particularly the first step, has got to be cautious, safe, and appropriate to the circumstances that we are dealing with," says Andrews.

The Premier cited the recent outbreak in Korea, where a single individual with COVID-19 attended a number of bars resulting in the re-closure of hundreds of bars across the country and the forced quarantine of more than 1,000 Koreans.

"We have to be very careful to not do too much too soon, because the problem then is it gets away from you," says Andrews.

"We've seen just how rapidly it spreads, not just in our state, in our nation."

For those Victorians still working from home today's announcement from the Premier has not changed much; the message to those who can work from home is that they should continue to do so.

"There are many Victorians, their employers and workers, who have, because of the work they do, been able to work from home, and I don't want to see that change," says Andrews.

"The fact that we're going to have literally hundreds of thousands of people visiting family and friends, that's a big step, that's a lot of movement that wasn't happening previously."

The announcement from Andrews comes as the State reports seven new cases of COVID-19, including one from the Cedar Meats processing facility, four from returning overseas travellers, and two under investigation.

The seven new cases take Victoria's total confirmed cases of COVID-19 to 1,494.

To date, 161,000 people have been tested in the largest testing regime ever implemented in Victoria. Of the 141,000 tests that have been processed Andrews says 30 cases were discovered that would've otherwise gone undetected.

This testing program will remain a feature of the rest of 2020 according to Andrews, though likely not at the immense scale the State has been undertaking to date.

Victoria's new rules are extremely cautious in comparison to how other states and territories in Australia have approached relaxing COVID-19 restrictions.

Today in South Australia the State is moving into Stage One of its COVID-19 roadmap to normality, which will allow outdoor dining, regional travel, and auctions.

Queensland will begin relaxing restrictions on 16 May, opening up restaurants, pubs and bars to 10 people indoors and a range of other relaxations including the opening of beauty therapy and nail salons with bookings, retail shopping, personal training, outdoor gyms, open homes and auctions, libraries and more.

Yesterday New South Wales announced it would be rolling back restrictions on 15 May, broadly in line with the policies of South Australia and Queensland, allowing restaurants and cafés to reopen with up to 10 patrons at a time.

And Western Australia, thanks to its hard border, will be more liberal with its easing of restrictions from 18 May, allowing the opening up of hospitality venues, indoor or outdoor fitness classes, and non-work gatherings, all with a maximum limit of 20 people.

Andrews says his cautious approach will ensure Victoria is the "envy" of the rest of the world in terms of how it handled the COVID-19 pandemic.

"The last thing we want to do is follow the example that so many other countries have given us," says Andrews.

"If you relax too many rules too quickly, then we will find ourselves back here and indeed worse. We will find ourselves in a lockdown even harder than the one that we are now coming out of.

"Our performance is the envy of the world. We need to make sure that we jealously guard that."

Updated at 11:51am AEST on 11 May 2020.

 

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