Daniel Andrews has announced the so-called “ring of steel” separating metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria will be scrapped along with travel restrictions for city residents, as the state recorded no new cases of Covid-19 for the ninth day in a row.
Declaring it “a day to be optimistic”, the Victorian premier said on Sunday that the state would take the next step in easing longstanding coronavirus restrictions by removing the checkpoints between Melbourne and the rest of the state from midnight.
“Families will be able to be together again,” he told reporters.
“Today is a day to be proud as Victorians of what we have been able to achieve. There has been a lot of pain and hurt and there is a need for healing, for investment, for all sorts of repair. The most important thing … is to stay the course on this – to be as stubborn as the virus.”
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The ban on travelling from Melbourne to regional Victoria was introduced during the state’s devastating second-wave outbreak. It will be scrapped as a number of other restrictions are eased.
Andrews said that from midnight on Sunday restaurants, pubs and cafes would be able to host up to 40 people indoors and 70 outdoors, while cinemas, galleries, music venues and museums will be able to operate with a limit of 20 people in each “space”. Other changes include an increase in the number of people able to attend religious gatherings and funerals, up to 20 people inside, and 50 outside.
But the premier said the state’s mask mandate would continue indefinitely, arguing the rule was an “insurance policy” to help “stop someone who has got it from inadvertently giving it to others”.
“In terms of face masks, all the mask rules remain in place,” the Labor leader told reporters. “Again, the time will come when we can make changes but not for today. Masks are, I know, not a pleasant experience, particularly as the weather gets warmer, but they are low cost and high benefit.”
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The eased restrictions come as Victoria recorded its ninth consecutive day with no new cases of the virus after a crippling second-wave outbreak led to the deaths of more than 700 people and saw the state enter lockdown for months.
The state’s chief medical officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said the state’s approach to the virus had been “validated and vindicated” by the low case numbers.
“If there’s a lesson for anyone, it’s that science-based disciplines use empirical data and really sophisticated modelling and other evidence-based inputs to try and make the best decisions,” he said. “It doesn’t mean that they’re foolproof, it doesn’t mean there isn’t some uncertainty in that.”
Also on Sunday, NSW recorded no new local cases of Covid-19. There were three new cases among overseas passengers in hotel quarantine. On Saturday, the state saw one new case attached to a cluster in the state’s south.