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The travel ban between regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne could be lifted this week along with the requirement to wear masks outdoors as senior state government ministers met late on Tuesday to consider easing coronavirus restrictions.
Under the plan being thrashed out with Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton’s team, eight senior cabinet ministers led by acting Premier James Merlino were discussing moving Melbourne to the same settings as regional Victoria from 11.59pm on Thursday.
Three weeks into a “circuit breaker” lockdown, businesses are crying out for the regional travel ban to be lifted.Credit:Getty
That would include lifting the 25-kilometre travel bubble, allowing two visitors into homes and making masks mandatory only indoors.
As well as allowing Melburnians to move freely within the state, the government was expected to take steps to further relax rules in regional Victoria, two government sources told The Age.
A final decision will not be reached until the full cabinet meets on Wednesday morning, with an announcement likely later on Wednesday.
Victoria initially recorded zero new cases on Tuesday, but Health Minister Martin Foley revealed in the afternoon that two residents of a Southbank townhouse complex had tested positive and would be included in Wednesday’s numbers. The pair, both men, were primary close contacts of a fellow resident who tested positive over the weekend.
The Kings Park apartment complex in Southbank, where two residents tested positive on Tuesday.Credit:Eddie Jim
There are now six positive cases including a baby in the Kings Park apartments in Southbank, where more than 200 residents have been told to self-isolate.
After another day of encouraging case numbers, the head of Victoria’s peak business body said it was time for “big steps” to allow all sectors to open viably from this week.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra told The Age that frustration and negativity among workers was as strong as he had seen during the pandemic, with businesses such as gyms still shut in Melbourne and all restaurants and bars operating with a limit of 50 patrons indoors.
“We’re three weeks into a seven-day lockdown and this circuit breaker is becoming a power failure,” he said.
Growing frustrated: Paul Guerra, head of Victoria’s peak business lobby.Credit:Penny Stephens
“Our fear is: where is the plan to get out of this, and to make sure we don’t get back into a lockdown? Why can’t we hear about what general criteria or triggers the government are looking for before business can get going again? Why can’t we have some kind of road map, like last year?”
Ahead of school holidays starting for some students this week, Mr Foley insisted restrictions were a “day to day” proposition and would depend on advice from Professor Sutton’s public-health team.
“We know that family businesses, all sorts of people need certainty … and when we’ve got more to say about that, as we’ve always indicated, we’ll have more to say,” Mr Foley said.
Mr Guerra said the desperation of employers and workers had been exacerbated over the past three weeks because many businesses had exhausted financial reserves they relied on last year and support mechanisms such as JobKeeper were no longer in place.
“Of course health advice is the most crucial aspect in this. But we are now so far into this pandemic that livelihoods are increasingly threatened, so why can’t we have a more nuanced response?” said Mr Guerra, whose organisation works with 30,000 members and customers.
“We’ve always been a can-do state. Our view is rather than just continuing to say how much we should fear the virus, government and employers can work together to find solutions. We’re doing QR codes now, tell us what other help is needed from the business community and we can provide it.”
Victoria’s COVID-19 response commander, Jeroen Weimar, on Tuesday assured Victorians who had received their first dose of the Pfizer vaccine that they would be able to receive their second dose within the recommended three to six weeks, including through an online booking system that belatedly launched on Tuesday afternoon.
He said bookings had been paused on first Pfizer doses just for this week to “calibrate” following a boom in demand in the three weeks since Victoria entered lockdown, with 92,000 doses of Pfizer and 35,000 doses of AstraZeneca administered over the past week.
ACTU secretary Sally McManus said high-priority workers were struggling to get a vaccine shot.Credit:Dominic Lorrimer
Ms McManus said while the state government had set up a fast-track line for aged care and disability workers, many workers had not been able to take time off to get immunised due to insecure employment. She said vaccine teams should travel to immunise workers in their place of employment.
Australian Medical Association Victorian president Roderick McRae said the Pfizer rollout had been plagued with uncertainty due to the limited supply of Pfizer doses in Australia and the high number of people wanting the vaccine in Victoria following the latest COVID-19 outbreaks.
“I’m starting to hear more and more that people are a bit disgruntled by the rollout of Pfizer,” Dr McRae said.
Dr McRae said he hoped some issues that resulted in state-run mass vaccination hubs pausing bookings and the coronavirus hotline being overwhelmed would be resolved when general practitioners start administering Pfizer next month.
About 1600 primary close contacts linked to Victoria’s outbreaks remain in self-isolation but a total of 7000 have been released over the past three weeks.
The South Australian government on Tuesday announced it would reopen its border to regional Victorians, including people from Geelong, although every traveller must get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result upon entering.
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