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Victoria’s five-day circuit breaker lockdown will be lifted from midnight, though gathering limits and mask rules will remain in place as authorities continue to monitor close contacts of cases linked to the Holiday Inn quarantine hotel outbreak.
Announcing no new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, the premier, Daniel Andrews, staunchly defended the need for a snap lockdown, declaring it a “certainty” there would be “much higher” case numbers had he not shuttered the state from Saturday until Wednesday night.
The easing of restrictions – which takes effect from 11.59pm on Wednesday – will mean residents can leave their home for any reason, and the 5km travel limit will not apply.
Masks will still be required indoors, except for in a home. They will also be required for outdoor settings where physical distancing cannot be maintained.
Gathering limits will remain, with no more than five visitors to a home each day, and public outdoor gatherings limited to 20 people.
Restaurants, retail businesses, community facilities, entertainment venues and schools can reopen, and public and private sector offices can return to 50% capacity.
Crowds will be allowed to return to the Australian Open from Thursday, with safe capacity limits to be determined on Wednesday afternoon.
There will be no caps on funeral and wedding attendances but these functions will have to adhere to their venues’ density limits. Churches, mosques and synagogues will also have to observe these rules.
Andrews said there would be far more than the current 19 active cases and 3,400 close contacts of cases if it weren’t for the lockdown – an action he said had enabled authorities to get on top of cases linked to the Holiday Inn and a party in Coburg, which has nine infections linked to it so far.
“Total case numbers would be much, much higher and it is a certainty that I would not be reporting zero cases today and the fact that restrictions are coming off,” Andrews said.
He refused to rule out further lockdowns in response to cases until “90 something per cent” of the country had been vaccinated.
“I’m not prepared to pretend to the Victorian community that this is over, there can be some notice period but we don’t have the luxury of giving people a month’s notice. I’m just not in the business of ignoring advice, or shopping around for advice that suits me.”
Andrews also strongly rejected a claim that he had provided “counterfactual” information about the timing of close contacts being told to isolate and the exposure sites listed.
“I don’t accept, and I find it just absolutely inaccurate to describe what I have been saying as counterfactual. Victorians know what it’s like when this gets away from you and I simply won’t allow that to happen.
“I am so very proud of the way in which Victorians have stuck together and done this hard work over these last five days to deliver these outcomes. There is nothing counterfactual about that, it’s the story of 2020.”
Andrews also said authorities would wait until 26 February to make decisions about easing restrictions further, as this would mark 14 days – or two incubation cycles – since the last cases of concern.
Victoria’s Covid testing commander, Jeroen Weimar, said cases could still emerge before next Friday, and echoed Andrews’ defence of the lockdown. He said authorities had “discovered far more about this outbreak than we knew on Friday” in the first two days of the lockdown.
“Was this five-day period necessary? Absolutely … I’m not going to apologise for the fact that we pulled all that up,” Weimar said.
The state’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said the lockdown was justified because of “an explosion in the number of exposure sites” linked to the Holiday Inn.
“When you’ve got that many people potentially exposed, you cannot afford to see cases pop up out of those exposed individuals who then have contacts with 20, 30, 40, 50 people.”
“We don’t know what might have happened in an alternative universe without all of the things we have put into play here,” he said.
“But I’m sure the accusation would have been there, that we should have gone earlier or we should have done a circuit breaker if we’d seen cases emerge in casual exposure sites or multiple locations where people were exposed,” Sutton said.
He also said mask use in Victoria had “almost certainly stopped some transmission that would have occurred”.
Source: The Guardian
Keyword: Victoria’s lockdown to lift at midnight but some restrictions remain in place | Victoria