Victoria has reimposed tougher coronavirus restrictions with plans to open pubs, restaurants and other venues to more people pushed back to try to prevent a second wave of Covid-19, as everywhere else in Australia restrictions are eased.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, said on Saturday the steps were necessary after the number of cases rose by 25 in a day, the highest increase in two months.
Andrews said the growing number of Covid-19 infections in the state appeared to be driven by people who were gathering with family and friends at home or going to work while they were infectious and supposed to be isolating.
“I’m frustrated by it, I’m disappointed by it, but it’s appropriate that we be really up-front and describe it so people can understand what’s driving these numbers,” he said.
“We have had cases of people gathering in large numbers, everybody at their home or another family member’s home or a close friend’s home, even though they had been told to isolate in their own home.
“It is unacceptable that families anywhere in our state can, just because they want this to be over, pretend that it is. It is not over.”
It comes as a scheduled AFL game between Essendon and Melbourne was postponed after an Essendon player, Conor McKenna, tested positive to Covid-19.
New South Wales, which still has a higher total number of coronavirus cases than Victoria, at 3,144 to Victoria’s 1,817, only recorded one new case overnight.
Under the tougher measures, the number of people permitted at gatherings at a person’s home in Victoria has been reduced to members of the household and five guests from 11.59pm on Sunday. Outside of the home gatherings are permitted in groups of 10.
Until then Victorians can have up to 20 household guests and gather in groups of up to 20 outside, in line with NSW and Queensland.
Plans to open gyms, cinemas, theatres and TABs will still proceed on Monday, limited to 20 people at a time, but a promise to expand the number of people permitted in pubs and restaurants have been put on hold. The 20-person limit for those venues will be kept in place until 12 July.
The order that people who can work from home, must work from home, has been extended until at least the end of July.
Andrews also announced a hardship fund for workers whose workplaces were not paying them sick leave, after telling reporters that some people had gone to work after being told they were a close contact of a positive case, or even after testing positive themselves. They will be eligible for $1,500 if they are diagnosed with Covid-19, or are a close contact of a confirmed positive case, and are asked to isolate.
“Their employment may well be tenuous. They are facing hardship … it is our view that we have to try and remove that barrier where people are, sadly, making the choice that public health is less important than the welfare and the survival, in a financial sense, of their family,” he said.
The reintroduction of tougher measures comes as other states continue to relax their Covid-19 restrictions.
Andrews said there had been no discussion yet about whether the rising number of cases in Victoria should prompt fresh discussions about travel between states.
But he said he would be speaking to the NSW premier, Gladys Berejiklian, about whether travel restrictions should be imposed on Victorians living in known Covid-19 hotspots. He said he was not suggesting border closures at this stage.
Australia’s chief medical officer, Prof Brendan Murphy, was asked if he thought states with different rates of infection should be subject to border restrictions. He said state borders were a matter for the states, and that “small outbreaks were expected and prepared for” as Australia began to loosen restrictions.
“Small amounts of community transmission remain in Victoria, which is another reminder of the need for people to be diligent in following the health advice to protect themselves from Covid-19,” Murphy said.
Andrews also flagged there could be specific restrictions imposed on hotspot suburbs and this was something being discussed with the national cabinet.
Such restrictions could involved a reintroduction of stay-at-home rules except for essential shopping, healthcare, work, education and exercise.
“I have had a detailed conversation with the prime minister on the way to brief you today, and the notion of geographical restrictions, a lockdown, for instance, in a given area, is part of the national cabinet roadmap to reopening if there are outbreaks, if there are unacceptably high levels of community transmission,” Andrews said.
“I give you these examples in that spirit. They are examples. I am not announcing this today.”
Andrews stressed the number of cases in the state remained low. He said the tighter restrictions were challenging but necessary.
“We are acutely conscious that every one of these decisions does damage but we are equally conscious that to not make these important decisions, to do what might be popular in the midst of a pandemic, can have enormous consequences not just in terms of safety, people’s lives, but it also risks a second wave,” he said.
“And a second wave will be absolutely catastrophic to our economy.”
Andrews said that half of all locally acquired cases in Victoria since April had been linked to transmission between family members. Of the 25 new cases reported overnight, seven were linked to a family in Keilor Downs. That outbreak now has 10 positive cases spread across six households, including a teacher at Albanvale primary school.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, dismissed a suggestion the increase in cases was due to a 30,000-strong Black Lives Matter protest in Melbourne two weeks ago, saying the increase is due to large family outbreaks without any connection to the protest.
“Some of [the outbreaks] are very large, they have reached more than a dozen individuals and they cross multiple households and there are a number of other close contacts,” Sutton said. “That is why the actions we are announcing today are really necessary, because some of these households we have another 50 close contacts who are being followed up, and they are all potentially going to be cases in the next couple of weeks.”