Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has made the tough call to stop the spread of coronavirus infections across the state, declaring a state of disaster and introducing the nation’s toughest lockdown restrictions to date.
Another 397 new cases and three deaths were recorded on Saturday, and 671 cases and seven more deaths on Sunday. Six of Sunday’s fatalities were connected to outbreaks in aged care homes.
In response to these numbers, Mr Andrews announced a daily curfew between 8pm and 5am, as well as tough new restrictions limiting movement around the state.
“Absolutely straight up … if we don’t make these changes we are not going to get through this,” he said.
While the existing restrictions showed signs of working, health data showed that Victoria’s case rate would continue growing and would take until Christmas before easing.
“Six weeks versus a slower strategy … that takes up to six months, I’m not prepared to accept that,” said Mr Andrews.
While the first round of stage four restrictions apply to how we live, more restrictions about how we work are on the way.
Mr Andrews said rules for specific industries would force some businesses to close, and others to slow down operations. It is expected that only supermarkets, greengrocers, petrol stations, pharmacies, bottle shops, butchers and bakers will be allowed to stay open.
Previous stay-home orders and mandatory face mask restrictions have barely stymied the number of new infections.
Under the stage four lockdown restrictions, people in metro areas will not be allowed to travel further than five kilometres from their homes, would be able to exercise for only one hour a day with a group size limited to a maximum of two, and only one person per household will be allowed to go shopping.
From Wednesday, students will return to flexible learning.
From 8pm, no one should be out in metropolitan Melbourne except to work or to give and receive care.
Statement on Melbourne moving to Stage 4 restrictions: pic.twitter.com/mFu1Kr1NO0
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) August 2, 2020
From midnight on Wednesday, stage three restrictions will apply to regional areas, meaning non-essential businesses such as restaurants, gyms and bars will close and people must remain in their homes unless shopping for essentials, care and caregiving, exercise and work or study.
Beauty and personal services, entertainment venues (including museums and galleries), and community sport will be shut down.
And masks are now mandatory for all Victorians.
Statement on regional Victoria moving to Stage 3 restrictions: pic.twitter.com/wzUOIG769X
— Dan Andrews (@DanielAndrewsMP) August 2, 2020
Most fatalities have been connected to older Australians in aged care or living at home.
“We cannot let this virus tear through regional aged care in the way it has with private-sector aged care in Melbourne,” said Mr Andrews.
“We cannot let it mean more Victorians in hospital beds. More Victorians hooked up to machines just to breathe.
“And more Victorians – more grandparents, parents, sons, daughters, partners and loved ones – choked to death by an invisible enemy.”
More than a quarter of positive cases in Victoria doorknocked by Australian Defence Force (ADF) teams in the past 24 hours were seemingly flouting self-isolation rules.
The new restrictions will go a long way towards protecting the most vulnerable from being put at risk of COVID-19 infection by community members ignoring quarantine rules.
“It is shocking that so many people appear to be putting vulnerable at-risk Australians in the firing line of COVID-19,” said Leading Age Services Australia chief Sean Rooney.
“Aged care staff and providers are on the frontline of COVID-19 but every person across Victoria and our nation is fundamental to the fight.
“Aged care providers have been on high alert for months and need collaboration from the entire community.
“Sadly, these risks cannot be entirely eliminated and stopping widespread community transmission is the best way to protect older Australians either in care or in their own homes.
“This requires every single Australian to maintain heightened vigilance with regard to social distancing, hygiene and local regulations like wearing masks.
“It is a time for every Australian to act together for the safety of our treasured elders.”
The Premier hopes further restrictions will be a “circuit breaker” to hundreds of daily infections.
He also expressed concern about potential “mystery cases” of community transmission in Victoria, above and beyond what was being detected in tests and official data.
“That is in some respect our biggest challenge,” Mr Andrews said.
Asked if the stricter six-week lockdown will get the state’s issues in check, Victorian chief health officer Brett Sutton said: “I hope so. It is entirely contingent on everyone in Victoria to make sure it is enough.
“If we do the things we know work … six weeks should be enough.”
While the stage four lockdown applies only to Victoria, other states are on alert after increases in infections and fatalities over the weekend.
The South Australian government has warned of the potential for tougher protection measures after the state recorded two new coronavirus cases on Sunday – one of whom was at school when infectious.
Adelaide received 170 people on Saturday on a flight from India. Officials were expecting some to have COVID-19.
NSW has updated its mask usage advice after recording 12 new infections on Sunday. While masks are not yet compulsory, the state has recommended they be worn in four specific circumstances.
“If you are in an enclosed space and you cannot guarantee social distancing, such as public transport, such as when you are buying groceries, you should be wearing a mask,” said NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian.
“Whenever [staff] are facing customers, we strongly recommend that they wear masks.”
People attending places of worship should also wear masks or face coverings, as should people living in known COVID-19 hotspots or areas where there is a high level of community transmission.
Queensland, Western Australia and the Northern Territory have reported one new coronavirus case each.
On Saturday, Queensland imposed tighter border restrictions, blacklisting visitors from greater Sydney, along with all people from Victoria.
Some of the cases recorded interstate originated in Melbourne.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison expressed concern and support for Victoria on social media last night.
“Australians all around the country are backing you in, because we all know for Australia to succeed, we need Victoria to get through this,” he posted.
Do you agree with the tough new restrictions? What do you think will come next?
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