Victoria’s Acting Premier James Merlino announced the easing of restrictions for Melbourne and regional Victoria from 11.59pm on Wednesday night after one positive case of COVID-19 was recorded on Wednesday which was quarantining during their infectious period.

“Everyone should be absolutely proud of what we have all achieved together,” he said, but warned that “this isn’t over yet” before announcing the easing of restrictions.

“Masks will no longer be required outdoors unless you cannot maintain a 1.5 metre distance, but it is important that everyone continues to wear them indoors, whether that is shopping, on the train or at work,” Mr Merlino said.

“Funerals are limited to 50 people, weddings are limited to 10. Religious ceremonies will be capped at 50 people inside.”

There are numerous contradictions as gyms remain closed in Metropolitan Melbourne but outdoor swimming pools, spas, saunas and steam rooms are allowed to function with a maximum capacity of 100. Meanwhile, funerals can take place with a maximum of 50, however weddings are able to function with just a capacity of 10.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said that “weddings have been a source of significant transmission and do remain a source of clusters being created there” due to human behaviour. “There are people who have cancelled multiple times,” he acknowledge, but said “unlike a funeral, it can be deferred to another time potentially”.

He said both weddings and funerals have the same risk, but numbers were lowered for weddings. “We’re trying to say, wait a little bit,” he said, which is “a recognition that the imperative for a wedding is not the same as for people wishing to attend a funeral.”

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Professor Sutton said lockdown measures would ease from tomorrow night and not right this second due to “complex legal drafting matters to be done that needs to be measured against all of the charted considerations for each and every charter obligation that is in play with restrictions” so that it “is not a sloppy process”.

“We don’t know what might have been prevented,” he said, when asked how the 25km travel bubble contributed to the containment of the virus.

Health Minister Martin Foley said “in regards to the private residential aged care outbreaks, the Arcare Maidstone location, where we have seen 1057 primary close contacts, that number grew as a result of the case associated with the family member yesterday, and a number of those sites have been added as of yesterday.”

There are now fewer than 200 exposure sites online. The good news is that Melbourne is coming out of lockdown, however the bad news is that federal government’s already narrow wages support package will be cut.

Mr Merlino said that a $2000 extra payment will be offered to businesses already eligible. “This is acknowledging that for this week there will be some businesses that will be required to remain closed,” he said, estimating that a few thousand businesses continue to be impacted.

Additional funding has being benchmarked for mental health issues which have spiked due to the virus with $215 million of additional support, adding that the state budget benchmarked $3.8 million – “the biggest investment in mental health that this nation has seen”.

Mr Merlino said $8.6 million dollars of additional business support was announced on Monday. He said federal government has rejected requests for this funding to be extended:

“These are the settings that the federal government put in place. They put a lot of conditions on the funding. We welcome the additional support but acknowledge that whether it is the conditions that they set, the taxing arrangements that they put to that funding, that is a decision that they have made. We understand hardship doesn’t end at 11.59pm tomorrow night,” he said.

“I can confirm that Tim Pallas, our treasurer, reached out to the federal treasurer to advocate for the continuation of support. My understanding is that is not forthcoming but in terms of questions of additional income support and continuation of that support, that should be put to the federal government.”

READ MORE: Acting Premier James Merlino cautiously optimistic about Melbourne’s reprieve from lockdown

Normal schools and language schools

In a response to Neos Kosmos’ question about the drop off in numbers of afternoon schools teaching community languages and sporting clubs, which kept open, switched to remote learning but saw their numbers drop, Mr Merlino said, “I speak to local sporting clubs as well in my community and there was a drop off in some sports in terms of participation as parents were making choices about not doing maybe three or four activities that they were doing last year or the year before…”

Mr Merlino, who is in charge of the education portfolio, said “moving to remote learning is a last resort, absolutely is a last resort and for last couple of weeks, our schools have been open for vulnerable children and for children of authorised workers. We are in a position, based on public health advice, to have our year 11s and 12s back at school last Friday. I am pleased, as education minister and a parent, that on Friday, all children will be back at school.”

In terms of further lockdown “the path to easing of restrictions completely and living a normal life is the successful rollout of the Commonwealths vaccination program,” he said, as well as the creation of a quarantine facility.

Between the end of October and June, Victoria has had the highest rate of hotel quarantine breaches per case of any other state, with one in every 42 cases of breach. Professor Sutton said, “We have had fewer breaches than some other jurisdictions with respect to hotel quarantine. We need to look at what the causes are but, as the acting premier said, as every first minister or head of quarantine or public health across the country has said, we need to look at every single aspect, every mitigation in hotel quarantine because they are not from an engineering point of view, the most ideal – they’re not open air.”

He added that he had ongoing confidence in hotel quarantine in Victoria, but this “doesn’t mean we should never consider that there isn’t a risk of the virus coming out of hotel quarantine”.

This time next week, the “aspiration” is that Melbourne can move to the same position regional Victoria is in.

The new measures will be as follows:

Metropolitan Melbourne

  • Travel has increased from 10km to 25km, but people can travel further for work, education, care or vaccines
  • Face coverings are not required outdoors when physical distancing by 1.5m but must still be worn indoors except in private homes or with a lawful exception.
  • Office settings increase to capacity of 25 per cent or cap of 10
  • People are advised to work from home if they can
  • Public gatherings have increased from two people to a maximum of 10 people.
  • QR Codes still required, including for religious institutions, and there are considerations to increase these to places of work – looking to make these mandatory in office locations
  • No visits to aged care facilities

Open/Allowed subject to a density of 1 person per 4 square metres

  • All retail with separate entrances for home businesses
  • Food and drink with a seating service for a maximum of 100 people, 50 indoors
  • Schools and onsite learning for all students
  • Higher education and training
  • Religious services with a maximum of 50 people
  • Funerals with a maximum of 50 mourners
  • Weddings with a maximum of 10 guests
  • Outdoor physical recreation/sport with a maximum of 100 people, no limit if 100 metre distance can be maintained (in activities such as golf)
  • Community sport with training allowed, provided the 25km travel limit applies
  • Outdoor swimming pools, spas, saunas, steam rooms, springs with a maximum of 100 people
  • Community facilities and creative studios with a maximum of 50 people
  • Indoor seated entertainment venues with 25 per cent seat capacity and a maximum of 50 people
  • Outdoor seated entertainment with a 50 per cent seated capacity
  • Outdoor non-seated entertainment venues
  • Drive-in cinemas with a maximum of 100 people
  • Hairdressing, beauty, personal care as long as masks are worn
  • Retail betting

Regional Victoria

  • Private visitors are at two adults daily together or separately plus dependants
  • Public gatherings have increased from a maximum of ten to 20 people
  • Food and drink venues are at a maximum of 150 people with no more than 75 indoors
  • Religious services have increased from 50 to a maximum of 150 – no more than 75 indoors
  • Funerals have increased from a maximum of 50 to 75; and weddings are from 10 to 20 guests
  • Customers can remove masks for service at hairdressing, beauty and personal care salons
  • Indoor physical recreation and sport with a maximum of 150 people is allowed with no more than 50 indoors
  • Community sport is open for all ages, training and competition
  • Indoor play centres, indoor skate parks and indoor trampolining are allowed for a maximum of 50
  • Swimming pools, spas, saunas, team rooms, springs are at a maximum of 150
  • Community facilites are open for a maximum of 150 people, no more than 75 indoors
  • Nightclubs, karaoke are open for a maximum of 50 people
  • Indoor seated entertainment venues are open for 50 per cent seating capacity
  • Indoor non-seated entertainment venues are open for a maximum of 75 people
  • Arcades, bingo and escape rooms are open to a maximum of 50 people
  • Drive-in cinemas are open to a maximum of 150 people, amusement parks to a maxumum of 100 people, electronic gaming open with a maximum of 50
  • Accommodation is open to a maximum of household bookings