Most of regional Victoria will be released from lockdown on Friday morning as the state shifts from “chasing zero” to enforcing targeted lockdowns if clusters arise.
From 11.59pm Thursday, there will no longer be only five reasons to leave home in regional Victoria, with the exception of hard-hit greater Shepparton.
Schools will reopen for prep to grade II and VCE students, and most businesses, including hospitality, will reopen with density limits in place.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said if new cases were to emerge in regional Victoria in coming weeks, “focused and targeted measures” would be implemented to control outbreaks instead of reimposing statewide lockdowns.
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“If there were an outbreak in another part of regional Victoria then we would look to try to target and localise our public health measures as much as we can,” he said.
“It’s not a snapback, it’s not freedom day, it’s not 100% of capacity down at the pub … [But] outbreaks have been brought under control. We want to do this in a cautious way, but in a positive way, in as optimistic a way as possible.”
Victoria police will significantly ramp up its presence monitoring the border between Melbourne and the rest of Victoria to prevent unauthorised travel to the regions, and businesses will again be required to check IDs.
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The City of Greater Bendigo mayor, Jennifer Alden, said she was “really pleased” to take the first steps out of lockdown and “get back to some form of normal”.
The shire had recorded no positive Covid cases since last year.
“The latest lockdown has been the toughest, so to know that we can take those cautious steps out is exciting and does give us hope,” she said.
“It’s good to see some progress. People have mental fatigue with the recurring nature of lockdowns … business will welcome this, and parents will be welcoming kids returning to school.
“Our great effort in following restrictions has helped us get to this point, things can happen very rapidly, which is what we need to take on board as we cautiously open up.”
The City of Greater Geelong deputy mayor, Trent Sullivan, said the news was a “huge relief” for the community.
“While we do have a small number of local cases, they are confined to very few households. We are glad to be opening up and aiming to keep the numbers low so we don’t have to go back into lockdown,” he said.
“We definitely welcome the state government’s move to a more targeted approach for regional Victorian lockdowns.
“We’d like to see some clarity for hospitality businesses on what it will take for the strict patron caps to be lifted a bit further, and when it might be possible for that to happen.”
Restrictions were expected to ease in greater Shepparton in line with the rest of the regions next week once the outbreak was brought under control.
There were 83 active Covid cases linked to the current outbreak.
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The City of Greater Shepparton mayor, Kim O’Keeffe, said she hoped the region would emerge from lockdown “sooner rather than later” but did not want to undermine weeks of work containing the Delta outbreak.
“There are still day 13 tests coming through very soon. Making sure we are ready and safe to come out is the main thing,” she said.
“We’ve highlighted doing the right thing and the result in doing the right thing. And our higher rates of vaccination are encouraging … we’re all over lockdowns and uncertainty, and vaccination is key to that.”
Restrictions would remain in place in metropolitan Melbourne with one change – childcare would reopen for single parents who had been unable to access support during the latest lockdown if they were not an authorised worker.
The Sentia Early Learning centre director, Angela Hunt, said single parents had been in a “vulnerable” position.
“Anything that helps these families who might be struggling is great … we need inclusive support for families in all shapes and sizes, returning to work is often a barrier for single parents,” she said.
“The more help they can get to get back into the workforce is great for parents.”
The health minister, Martin Foley, said the move would put “thousands of households” into a more equitable position.
“I apologise for the fact that the system has not necessarily worked for you, but these are the right steps to take,” he said.
There were 221 new locally acquired cases of Covid detected on Thursday from 42,429 tests.
Contact tracers had been able to link 98 cases to current outbreaks, with 123 cases still under investigation as to their acquisition source.
There were now more than 900 exposure sites listed across the state, including the waiting room of the emergency department of the Alfred hospital, with growing concerns over an outbreak at a Middle Park call centre.
The Victorian chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said the outbreak remained in a “fragile state”.
Covid had spread into another aged care home in Melbourne, after a fully vaccinated aged care worker at CraigCare aged care facility in Moonee Ponds tested positive to the virus.
There had been five new cases detected outside Melbourne in Mildura, the Latrobe Valley, the Mitchell shire, the Moorabool shire and the Bellarine Peninsula, but Sutton said the changes made to regional Victoria’s restrictions were “safe and appropriate steps”.
Victorians who had been stuck in NSW border communities for the past two weeks would be able to return to the state and complete 14 days of quarantine from home as part of a statewide trial.
Foley said applications would open from Friday, with up to 200 Victorians stuck interstate to be covered in the trial’s initial stages provided they have documentation they have had minimal social contacts, have received a negative Covid test and have had at least one dose of a vaccine.
Some 62.2% of the population had now had a single dose of a vaccine, and 38.6% were fully vaccinated.
A record 36,716 doses were administered at state-run sites on Tuesday.
Andrews said no one in Victoria’s Covid-19 hospital wards had been fully vaccinated.