Regional Victoria to emerge from lockdown

Restrictions are set to ease for regional Victoria while Melbourne remains in lockdown for another week, following three new COVID-19 cases.

Acting Premier James Merlino confirmed regional Victorians will be able to leave their home for any reason after 11.59pm on Thursday. 

It comes as the state recorded three new cases of COVID-19 on Thursday, all of them primary close contacts of existing cases.

The results were detected among 57,519 test results received in the 24 hours to Thursday morning, a record for the state. 

More than 50,000 people received a COVID-19 vaccine dose, including 23,921 administered at state-run vaccination hubs, which was also a record.

Of those, 6226 were workers in the aged care, healthcare, or disability care sectors.

The latest infections include an 89-year-old Arcare Maidstone aged care resident, who was transferred to hospital on Wednesday.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng said he would not be surprised if the outbreak at the facility, in Melbourne’s northwest, grew from the current five cases.

“People that were exposed before they knew about the first cases are potentially still incubating,” he said.

A child of a previously identified case in the Whittlesea area and a worker from Stratton Finance at Port Melbourne make up the other two new cases.

As the cases were isolating, there are no additional exposure sites, with the list remaining at more than 350 sites.

Professor Cheng said the Indian variant circulating in Melbourne is probably 50 per cent more infectious than the strain that forced the city into a prolonged lockdown last year. 

Under eased restrictions for regional Victoria, there will be no limit on how far people can travel and outdoor gatherings of up to 10 will be allowed.

Masks will remain compulsory indoors and outdoors when social distancing isn’t possible.

Schools, retail and hospitality will also be able to reopen.

Last year’s so-called “ring of steel” to enforce the differing restrictions between Melbourne and regional Victoria isn’t coming back, with roving police patrols to be used instead.

Regional businesses will have to check the IDs of customers to ensure they’re not from Melbourne. 

Service Victoria QR code check-ins will become mandatory statewide in retail settings such as supermarkets, with businesses required to manually log the visits of people who do not have mobile phones. 

Melbourne’s lockdown, meanwhile, is being extended until 11.59pm on June 10 as health authorities scramble to stamp out what they say is a more infectious variant of the virus. 

However, year 11 and 12 students will be able to return to classrooms, and some outdoor work such as landscaping and painting can resume from Friday.

Residents will also be able to travel up to 10km from their residence to shop and exercise. 

Prof Cheng said he was confident the seven-day extension would be “enough” to contain the outbreak. 

It’s expected Melbourne will then move to a similar set of restrictions to that of regional Victoria, with people unable to travel over the Queen’s Birthday long weekend.

Meanwhile, Prime Minister Scott Morrison has announced a “temporary COVID disaster payment” for stood- down Victorian workers aged over 17. 

People who worked more than 20 hours in the week before the lockdown will receive $500, while those employed for under 20 hours will be eligible for $325.

Workers must have less than $10,000 in savings in order to qualify and cannot be receiving other welfare such as JobSeeker.

Regional Victorians will not be eligible for the payment as it only applies to virus hotspots locked down for more than seven days.

State Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien backed the federal government’s plan. 

“There’s no perfect solution. No one’s going to be compensated every dollar they’re out of pocket because of these state government lockdowns,” he said.

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