‘Cautious pause’ as easing of restrictions delayed
Victoria has recorded seven new cases of COVID-19, but Premier Daniel Andrews has put a "cautious pause" on the major easing of restrictions that was expected on Sunday.
The Herald Sun understands that the public health team asked the government to hold fire on the easing of restrictions for a few more days to build confidence that the latest outbreak can be controlled.
The Premier last weekend suggested that the November 2 reopening of retail and hospitality businesses could be brought forward - but began cautioning Victorians on Saturday that the move might no longer happen following an outbreak in the northern suburbs.
"We had hoped today to be able to announce that metropolitan Melbourne would take significant steps, not from today but from mid-week, round retail, hospitality and a whole range of other, important next steps," he said.
Statement from the Premier on next steps for regional Victoria: pic.twitter.com/1Fo1r0IRZI— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) October 24, 2020
"We are not in a position to do that today because we have at least 1000 test results from that northern metropolitan outbreak that are in the labs. We will get those today, probably the balance of them tomorrow, and they will be additional testing conducted throughout the day.
"This is not anything other than a cautious pause, to wait to get that important information, to get the results of those tests. Just to rule out whether there are, whether there is more virus there than we think."
Mr Andrews said the "process was working", and the test results could rule out whether there was "more virus there than we think" spreading in the northern suburbs.
He said he would make more announcements in the coming days.
Mr Andrews has delayed the announcement about easing restrictions for "a couple of days" but claimed it would not cause any "meaningful" delay to Melbourne's reopening.
"I know people are keen to have a long and detailed list of changes to the rules. It is not appropriate for us to do that now," he said.
"It will be in the next couple of days, and we will not be, I don't think, really in any meaningful way behind schedule but we had already set."
Meanwhile, the Department of Health confirmed there were no deaths from the virus on Saturday.
Six of Sunday's new cases are linked to the northern suburbs outbreak.
Melbourne's 14-day rolling average has dropped to 4.6 with just nine mystery cases between October 9 and 22.
Regional Victoria's rolling average has dipped to 0.2. In total, there are 100 active cases in Victoria.
RESTRICTIONS ROLLED BACK IN REGIONAL VIC
There was better news for regional Victoria, where restrictions will ease further from Wednesday. 1
Gyms and fitness studios will be able to reopen for a maximum of 20 people - up to 10 per space, subject to a one person per 8sq m rule.
Up to 20 people, plus a faith leader, can gather indoors for a religious gathering, with up to 50 people and one faith leader indoors.
A cap on outdoor funerals will increase to 50 mourners.
In Shepparton, where three cases were linked to a rogue Melbourne truck driver earlier this month, restrictions will also ease after no new cases were recorded.
The city's restrictions will now be brought into line with the rest of regional Victoria, allowing its hospitality venues to host up to 40 people indoors.
"I want to congratulate the people of the Goulburn Valley for the amazing job they have done," Mr Andrews said.
"That gives you a clear sense that once you are across these outbreaks, once you can rule out these linkages, you wait for the test results and then you can take really big and significant steps."
PM PUSHED FOR EASING OF VIC RESTRICTIONS: HUNT
Victorians would be "deeply disappointed" if significant easing of harsh restrictions is not announced today, according to Health Minister Greg Hunt.
Speaking in Canberra on Sunday, Mr Hunt said Victoria had earned more freedoms and the state should be brought in line with measures in NSW.
He said the rolling 14 day-average being below the five-case benchmark set by the Andrew's Government needed to be followed.
"What we see now in Victoria is a 14-day rolling average of under five well under the standard set by Victoria, well under the standard set," Mr Hunt said.
"On that basis, the Commonwealth position is that Victoria should be recognised for where it is now.
"We've reached the time when Victoria said that they were looking to move forwards, their own time frame, their own timetable."
Prime Minister Scott Morrison made representations to Premier Daniel Andrews this week to urge him to make significant steps towards reopening, Mr Hunt revealed on Sunday.
"A further delay in Victoria would be profoundly disappointing," Mr Hunt said.
"It is simply the case that on the balance of evidence, and risk, Victoria is in a sufficiently strong place to replicate that which has occurred in NSW."
Mr Hunt said Victoria failing to reopen as scheduled would be a sign of a lack of confidence from Mr Andrews in his state's own contact tracing system
Victoria's former health Minister Jenny Mikakos has slammed the government for its "paralysis", saying the delay was unnecessary.
"Vic has met the under 5 threshold which some thought was unachievable. This was a very cautious target. 6/7 of new cases are related to a known outbreak so the risk is manageable. The set reopening is gradual & safe so any delay is unnecessary. It's paralysis in decision-making," she tweeted.
Earlier, she called for restrictions to be rolled back, writing: "It's been really tough but it's time for some safe easing up of restrictions."
Ms Mikakos sensationally resigned in September after being infuriated by Premier Daniel Andrews' evidence at the hotel quarantine inquiry.
REGIONAL VIC CALLS FOR MELBURNIANS TO BE FREED
Regional areas starved of visitors want Melbourne outbreaks contained without locking down the city.
As country Victoria eyes a further easing of restrictions - recording two active cases in Shepparton among 98 statewide - businesses are calling for freedom for Melburnians.
Regional towns have seen spikes in visitor numbers since city slickers were given the green light to travel to holiday homes and prepare them for flood and fire.
But Rural Councils Victoria deputy chair Jenny O'Connor said they didn't have permission to visit local businesses, which had been crippled by COVID-19 and the summer bushfires.
"People are moving into the regions already so I suppose we'd say, let those businesses benefit," she said.
"Our economy has been hammered and everyone is really keen to see a recovery as soon as we can."
Cr O'Connor's hope for a "targeted approach" to Melbourne hot spots was all but dashed by Premier Daniel Andrews who on Saturday said, "I don't think that would be the appropriate response".
Kinglake's Centre Stage Studio owner Taryn Jennings said she "doesn't understand" why regional Victorian restrictions couldn't be eased more quickly.
"We haven't had any cases here for months," she said.
"It would be nice to have some sense of COVID normal before Christmas, especially because we have only been able to open for six weeks out of this whole year."
Ms Jennings said fellow dance school owners and community sport organisations had struggled under the "tough" measures.
Victorian chamber of commerce and industry chief executive Paul Guerra said "we need to find the balance between suppression and living with the virus".
"Let's open up and become one Victoria again," he said.
Regional Victoria's rolling 14-day average was just 0.2.
THE RESTRICTIONS MELBURNIANS WOULD HAVE BEEN FREED FROM
A growing coronavirus cluster in Melbourne's north has rocked Premier Daniel Andrews's plans to unveil new freedoms on Sunday.
An urgent analysis of test results this morning will now determine the timings of new freedoms.
Before the latest northern suburbs outbreak, the state government had been planning by next weekend to axe restrictions on leaving home, end the 25km travel restriction and allow two people and their children to visit another family in their home.
Read the full story here.
CREDLIN: WE WON'T FORGET ANDREWS CAUSED LOCKDOWN HELL
As you look at the rest of the country living some sort of COVID normal, you see how devastating Daniel Andrews' decisions back in March have been for Victorians - who've endured one of the longest and toughest lockdowns in the world, writes Peta Credlin.
Read her opinion piece in full here.