Beleaguered Melburnians trapped in their sixth Covid lockdown will finally get some much-needed relief with a range of harsh restrictions set to be eased, allowing millions cooped up inside their homes more time outdoors.
Daniel Andrews is poised to give long-suffering residents more freedoms after 70 per cent of the state have received their first vaccine dose, which is expected to come on Thursday.
He is tipped to announce the 5km travel limit will be extended to 10km with the draconian essential exercise limit increased to three hours, up from two, but it’s not clear when the changes will be implemented.
The city’s despised nighttime curfew could also finally be abolished after the state cabinet met with health officials for late-night talks on Wednesday, with some advocating for the hated measure – which has no health benefit – to end.
The welcome freedoms come as the regional town of Ballarat wakes up to a seven-day snap lockdown of its own after four new Covid cases were discovered in the area.
WHAT LOCKDOWN CHANGES WILL BE ANNOUNCED ON THURSDAY?
• Residents will be able to travel 10km from their home – up from 5km
• Melbourne‘s dreaded 9pm-5am curfew could come to an end
• Exercise will be allowed for three hours a day – up from two
• Bike tracks, skate parks and outdoor gym equipment set to reopen
• Personal trainers could be permitted to work with two clients outdoors
• Essential workers will be able to use childminders
• Construction sites will be able to ramp up capacity to 50 per cent once 90 per cent of workers receive their first dose.
Meanwhile Shepparton has come out of lockdown, with its restrictions mirroring the rest of the regions since midnight on Wednesday after a local outbreak was brought under control.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the Ballarat decision was made after Covid sewage surveillance indicated the virus may have been circulating within the community for up to a week.
Back in Melbourne, the Andrews government discussed calls from the Victorian opposition to bring in ‘social bubbles’ that would allow up to five people to gather for two hours for exercise and recreation such as picnics, as is the rule in the ACT.
At about the same time last year, in the wake of Victoria’s disastrous second wave, restrictions were eased to allow 10 people from two households to meet-up outdoors.
With the AFL Grand Final just over a week away, some hope the sacred occasion may entice Premier Andrews to further ease the burden on cooped up Melburnians who’ve spent 229 days over the past 19 months living under stay-at-home orders.
By Wednesday, 68.3 per cent of Victorians aged 16 and over had had one dose of a Covid vaccine, with 41.9 per cent being fully-vaccinated.
‘We need to give people a break from relentless lockdowns,’ Liberal opposition leader Matthew Guy told the Herald Sun.
‘We need to find more ways to allow people to get exercise and limited social contact. With so many people doing it really tough, it’s vital for their mental and physical health.’
Although Mr Andrews has acknowledged a slight easing of restrictions would be introduced when the 70 per cent single dose marker was reached, the premier has remained tight-lipped about the details.
The Labor leader has also flagged a full roadmap out of lockdown will be announced on Sunday, outlining next month’s reopening strategy.
‘I’m not overselling this. Its modest, the notion of extra and extra distance,’ Mr Andrews said.
‘If we can go further than that with some social interactions as well, we will get those announcements made as soon as possible.
Video: Calls for roadmap out of lockdown as Victoria records 344 new cases (ABC NEWS)
‘It may well be though that if we roll all this together in the road map on Sunday, then we can do more because we’ve settled on the full context.
‘That would be the only reason we would wait a little while longer, it would only be a day or so.’
While the impressive vaccination rates in both states line the path to freedom and a return to post-Covid normality, virus case numbers are still high and threaten to derail any potential easing of restrictions.
NSW had its deadliest day of the pandemic with 12 more fatalities on Wednesday and a further 1250 cases.
On the other side of the Murray River, Victoria racked up 423 new infections and another two more deaths.
The calls to ease lockdown restrictions come as the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Business NSW lobbied their respective governments to install a ‘border bubble’ between both states as soon as 70 per cent double-dose rates are eclipsed next month.
The powerful business groups say flights to other states and overseas should continue when 80 per cent coverage is achieved, but it would be advantageous for NSW and Victorian business to get a jump start.
Borders between the two states were slammed shut two months ago on July 9 when Victoria declared NSW a Covid hotspot as Bondi’s Delta cluster began to spiral out of control.
Business NSW chief executive Daniel Hunter said the ongoing uncertainty caused by pandemic restrictions is destroying businesses and crippling both state’s economies.
‘Our businesses in NSW and Victoria need clarity on when they can resume their strong economic and socio-economic connection,’ he told The Australian.
‘Business needs certainty so they can re-employ staff and re-engage with their customer base.
‘We need to be able to say to NSW and Victoria, ‘at 80 per cent double dose, our businesses will be open, our state borders will be open and you can plan your Christmas holiday, catch up with family or attend that conference without fear of it being cancelled’.’
His counterpart, VCCI chief executive Paul Guerra, is also desperate to get one of the world’s busiest air corridors up and running again.
‘Our governments must facilitate a return to that collaboration to get our nation’s business heart pumping once again,’ he said.
The push comes ahead of fears an anti-lockdown protest planned for this weekend could become a super spreader event.
A public transport ban will be in place and massive fines issued in an attempt to stop the crowds from storming Melbourne‘s CBD.
Parts of Victoria’s transit network will shut from 8am to 2pm on Saturday to prevent thousands from gathering for a planned protest against the state’s Covid lockdown restrictions.
Chief Commissioner Shane Patton said police would be patrolling trains to ensure commuters had legitimate reasons to disembark with a $5,500 fine for anyone caught unlawfully entering Melbourne CBD.
More than 2,000 officers will be on hand with 20 police stations to be closed to the public as law enforcement are pulled away to assist in the major operation.
‘We realise people are fatigued and this is a significant step for us. We didn’t take this lightly but given the circumstances and where we are with Covid, we cannot afford to allow transmission to occur,’ he said.
‘We are planning for the worst and hoping for the best.’
Trams will cease operation entirely, while buses will bypass the city and trains will be barred completely from entering the CBD between the hours of 8am and 2pm.
Ubers and taxis will be slapped with travel restrictions preventing them from entering the city unless passenger’s have an essential reason.
A hard border surrounding the CBD will be established with barricades, traffic blocks and an increased police presence to block protesters from unlawfully gathering.
Essential workers who are required to travel that day will still be able to enter the city but will need to carry their workers permit on them to gain access.