Covid 19 coronavirus: Victorians, businesses react to Melbourne lockdown being lifted

Victorians and local businesses are celebrating the end of a tough two-week lockdown but many are warning there will not be a “snap back” to life as usual.

After two weeks under stay-at-home orders, the toughest restrictions in Melbourne were lifted at 11.59pm last night, after just one new virus case was recorded on Tuesday.

“This is a good day. Everyone should be absolutely proud of what we have all achieved together,” Victoria state acting Premier James Merlino said.

He said collective efforts had stemmed the outbreak in the city, which has seen more than 80 people test positive for either the Kappa or Delta strains that originated in India.

“But we know this isn’t over yet, and until we have widespread vaccination across Victoria and across our country, the virus will still be with us,” Merlino said.

Melbourne residents still cannot travel more than 25km from their homes or have visitors over, but may gather in groups of up to 10 outside.

Schools, cafes and beauty salons can reopen, but gyms and nightclubs must remain closed for at least another week.

Those on social media had mixed reactions with some feeling proud, others depressed and many commenting that they wouldn’t notice much of a change after exiting lockdown.

Brett Sutton, Victoria’s chief health officer, said there could not be a “snap back” to no restrictions as the situation remains “reasonably volatile”.

“We have to move by increments, safely, but with the minimum restrictions that we know will continue to control this.”

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry Chief Executive Paul Guerra said the lockdown was welcome but businesses would still be under pressure.

“Today’s news is good but it’s not the snapback we were hoping for; we went fast in, but we are crawling out. While most businesses across the state can now open, we need to see further easing of restrictions to enable all businesses to get back to viable trade as soon as possible to keep jobs, businesses, livelihoods, culture and prosperity alive in Victoria,” he said.

“The mental health toll of these restrictions is immense, as is the damage they’re causing to our reputation and confidence.”

“It’s great to see Regional Victoria taking another step out of lockdown and the Victorian Chamber is advocating for the state to unite again quickly. Not every business in the state will be able to operate from tomorrow and some will continue to lose money every day until restrictions are eased further,” Guerra said.

“We know our tourism sector will miss out this weekend, but we hope to see visitors return to the regions from next weekend and beyond.”

The changes for Metropolitan Victoria will mean that offices can welcome back 25 per cent of staff or 10 people, whichever is greater.

Hospitality can open for dine-in with a density limit of one person per four square metres to a cap of 100 people (50 inside), retail and indoor entertainment venues can open with density limits, hairdressers, beauty and personal services can open for services where a mask can be worn and outdoor sport and group fitness classes can run with a 10-person cap.

Indoor sport, gyms, pools and recreation remain closed, beauty services without a mask won’t be permitted, nor will indoor private gatherings, however the Government has indicated further support is on the way for these sectors.

In regional Victoria, hospitality and entertainment density limits will increase, masks can come off indoors (including for beauty services) and indoor sport, gyms, pools and recreation can open. However, Victoria’s tourism sector won’t see any rebound with restrictions on travel for metropolitan residents to continue.

When Victoria faced similar lockdown restrictions in October last year the State Government required zero active cases to reopen the state.

Australia is one of the few countries globally without endemic transmission, recording 30,000 Covid-19 cases and fewer than 1000 deaths in a population of 25 million.

The border remains closed to most travellers – with the exception of those from New Zealand – and authorities are quick to impose restrictions when cases are detected.

The virus is believed to have leaked out of Australia’s makeshift hotel quarantine facilities up to 18 times in six months, prompting tough scrutiny of the system in recent weeks.

Outbreaks in Taiwan and Japan have also underscored how initial success in containing the virus can quickly erode without widespread vaccination.

Australia had administered about 5.2 million jabs as of Monday, but only a small fraction of people are fully vaccinated.

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