Australia

Lockdown blueprint reveals more weeks of pain

This coronavirus article is unlocked and free to read in the interest of community health and safety. Get full digital access to trusted news from the Herald Sun and Leader for just $1 a week for the first 12 weeks. Melbourne’s stage four restrictions will be extended by two weeks and the curfew will be…

This coronavirus article is unlocked and free to read in the interest of community health and safety. Get full digital access to trusted news from the Herald Sun and Leader for just $1 a week for the first 12 weeks.

Melbourne’s stage four restrictions will be extended by two weeks and the curfew will be pushed back to 9pm, playgrounds reopened and picnics in a park allowed with one other person from next week.

Among the changes coming into effect from next Sunday, exercise will be increased to two hours per day — up from the current one hour per day.

The state government revealed its full road map online but the site struggled to cope with the traffic and many pages could not opened.

YOUR RESTRICTION QUESTIONS ANSWERED

Some minor changes will also be made to help struggling Victorians.

This includes a “bubble” for people who live alone and one another person, and social gatherings of two people or a household.

From September 28, there will be even more of a reprieve.

Schools and childcare will reopen for preps to grade twos, VCE and VCAL students, and specialist schools.

The plan outlines the restrictions that will be lessened between September 13 and November 23, after which the state will need to have 14 days COVID-free before reaching “COVID-normal”.

The lockdown extension and slow easing of restrictions was revealed by the Herald Sun on Thursday in leaked documents.

Premier Daniel Andrews said new modelling left no choice but to extend restrictions.

“This job, the great honour that I have to lead our state, every day is filled with decisions that are really, really difficult … you are not quite certain which option you choose,” he said.

“Others are difficult because you know what the consequences of those decisions will be. Some of them are indeed heartbreaking. This is not a 50-50 choice.”

Mr Andrews foreshadowed about 101,000 workers in construction, warehousing, distribution, childcare, manufacturing and areas such as outside garden maintenance, would be among those allowed back to work first under the easing of restrictions.

He said the plan wasn’t based on the case numbers, but “what you do when you get a case.”

“There are always more cases out there than those who come forward and get tested,” Mr Andrews said.

“The only way we can manage it is to get these numbers down to such a low level that it’s a fair fight.

“You can chase those numbers if you have everything shut down … but no public health response… will work if you’ve got the whole thing out of control.”

Meanwhile, regional Victorians will begin at step two, which from September 13 will allow them to move more freely than metropolitan Melbourne.

This includes an increase of up to five people allowed at public gatherings and a staged return to school in term four.

And masks would remain part of Victorians’ daily life for the foreseeable future.

“I think masks is something we should continue to do,” Mr Andrews said. “I think they are playing a part.”

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he was confident the road map would work and the achieving numbers as low as five were possible.

He said that any setbacks did occur, they would be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.

“I hope there’s no moving back,” Prof Sutton said. “(But) I think we can address them on their merits.”

Prof Sutton said locking down specific suburbs was unlikely to be reinforced.

He said he was more confident with how the pandemic was being handled now, than six weeks ago.

“This is a slow and steady approach … I think we are laying out a very difficult path in lots of ways, but it’s the least worst option.”

It comes as Victoria recorded 63 new coronavirus cases on Sunday.

A further five deaths were also reported in the past 24 hours, bringing the state’s total death toll to 666.

Two of the deaths occurred before Saturday — the latest fatalities are all linked to aged-care outbreaks and include a woman in her 80s, three women in their 90s and one woman in her 100s.

There are 1872 active cases across the state, including 261 healthcare workers and 98 people in regional Victoria.

Currently, 283 Victorians are in hospital — 19 receiving intensive care and 16 of those 19 on a ventilator.

HOW SCHOOL WILL LOOK IN TERM FOUR

Most Victorian students will remain home at the beginning of term 4, with early years and senior students returning to school from week two.

Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed a staggered approach for the return to school in Victoria.

Only Year 12s doing assessments will be permitted to return to school on October 5 if cases continue to decline.

That will include for the General Achievement Test.

In the second week, students in prep, grade one, grade two, VCE, VCAL and specialist students would return to schools in Melbourne, while all pupils in regional Victoria will be able to head back to campuses.

Premier Daniel Andrews said grade three to year 10 could only go back from October 26 if there was fewer than a daily average of five new cases.

Teachers would only be required to be on-site for face-to-face classes

It’s understood schools will be able to choose how they return students, whether that be a staggered model or bring back certain year levels on certain days.

Minister for Education James Merlino said he was “very confident” students in metropolitan Melbourne, especially those in year 12, would not be disadvantaged.

“That’s been our absolute focus,” he said.

He said the government was not anticipating children would need to repeat a year but that additional catch-up support would be made available.

Mr Andrews said if cases continue to drop, the aim was to return all students to on-site learning this year.

CHILDCARE PERMITS TO BE WAIVED

Childcare centres will reopen on September 28, with parents not required to have workers’ permits. Kindergarten kids will return on October 5 at the start of term 4.

The move, described by Education Minister James Merlino as “a significant step forward for all parents”, was welcomed by parents’ groups and early childhood leaders.

The return to full operation will be a relief for the struggling sector with has suffered from the loss of many casual jobs. Many centres are on the verge of closing as they currently run at 20 to 40 per cent occupancy.

Georgie Dent, executive officer of The Parenthood, said it would be a “welcome relief for families in Victoria”.

“It will also be a relief to a lot of educators who can return to more formal working patters,” she said.

“It’s also good for kids as children benefit from these environments. Being able to return to care is a huge step on the road to recovery.”

John Cherry, advocacy manger for Goodstart, said the return to centre-based care was a positive move.

But he questioned whether changes in regional areas — where childcare centres are operating as normal — would affect the ability of the government to waive out-of-pocket expenses.

— Susie O’Brien

‘GRIM DAY’ AS REAL ESTATE REMAINS LOCKED DOWN

Physical inspections of Melbourne homes won’t be allowed again until at least October 26, essentially keeping the property market on ice well into its busiest selling season of the year.

Property players have described Sunday as a “grim day for real estate”, saying buyers and renters having the ability to set foot in the homes they’re interested in is crucial to the selling and leasing processes.

The Victorian government’s “road map for reopening” document lists “private inspections by appointment only” and “outdoor auctions subject to gathering limits” among permitted activities under the third step in easing COVID-19 restrictions.

Read the full story here.

HUNDREDS OF COVIDIOTS FINED

A woman who ventured further than 5km from her home to buy yogurt is among the latest batch of Victorians fined for breaking lockdown rules.

Victoria Police issued 387 fines in the past 24 hours, including 36 for not wearing a mask, 48 for breaking curfew and 26 at vehicle checkpoints.

At least 160 fines were handed out to protesters at Saturday’s “Freedom Day” rally.

Mr Andrews called out the protesters, labelling them “selfish.”

“What we’ve got to avoid here is the notion that just because we want it to be over, we act like it is,” he said.

“If we open up too soon … it won’t just be COVID patients who we struggle to provide for.

“We’ve got to find a way to see this thing off.”

Among the rulebreakers are:

A Diggers Rest trio in St Albans visiting a friend about work.

A woman out shopping in Werribee who told police that she was buying yogurt and liked the Werribee shops better.

A man who told police he was looking for drugs when he was stopped while out walking in Footscray.

ALARMING VIRUS FIND IN APOLLO BAY

Health officials were on Saturday night trying to flush out undetected coronavirus cases in Victoria’s southwest after finding traces of the deadly virus in Apollo Bay’s sewer network.

The discovery has prompted calls for greater testing in the Apollo Bay region.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the result was of particular interest because there have been no known cases in the Apollo Bay community in recent weeks.

The state’s wastewater coronavirus testing program has been operating since April and has uncovered multiple positive results, however the Apollo Bay result was the first to emerge from an area where there were no known active cases.

Prof Sutton said the finding did not necessarily mean there were cases of COVID-19 in the Apollo Bay community and could be from someone who was travelling through the town and took a toilet stop.

It could also be because someone who has previously tested positive and was continuing to “shed” the virus, Prof Sutton said.

He said it could take several weeks for someone to stop shedding the virus and further analysis was required to assess the significance of the preliminary result.

The finding would help disease detectives track the spread of the virus and implement strategies to minimise transmission preventing hot spots or clusters before they have time to develop.

“Wastewater testing provides an additional and complementary tool to the existing public health response and can provide early warning that coronavirus is in a community before traditional testing methods,” Prof Sutton said.

He said until we have a highly effective and available vaccine, early detection and prevention were the keys to combating coronavirus.

The department has been working with Apollo Bay health services to ramp up testing in the area.

The Great Ocean Road Health – Otway Health testing clinic on McLachlan St, Apollo Bay, is open from 9am to 4pm seven days a week.

Anyone feeling unwell with even the mildest of symptoms was urged to get tested as soon as possible and isolate as they wait for their result.

The wastewater study includes 25 sampling sites; 12 in Melbourne, plus regional sewage treatment plants in Apollo Bay, Ararat, Ballarat, Bendigo, Colac, Geelong, Moe, Mt Martha, Shepparton, Sunbury, Traralgon, Warragul and Wonthaggi.

It is part of a national scheme co-ordinated by Water Research Australia bringing together health departments, water utilities, laboratories and researchers.

The Netherlands, Canada, Turkey and other countries have incorporated wastewater testing as part of their coronavirus surveillance.

South Australia health officials on Saturday identified two positives through their state’s wastewater testing program.

DANDENONG POLICE STATION FORCED TO CLOSE

One of the state’s biggest police stations has been forced shut by a coronavirus outbreak.

Dandenong police station closed last week after a number of employees tested positive to the highly contagious condition.

The Herald Sun understands there are up to six confirmed cases.

Many other sworn officers and other employees are off work and awaiting test results.

Victoria Police and the Department of Health and Human services are doing contract tracing to find anyone who may have been exposed.

In July, Frankston police station was temporarily shut down after a COVID-19 outbreak.

A Victoria Police spokesman confirmed the temporary closure at Dandenong.

The spokesman said the numbers off work or who are being tested would not be released for operational reasons.

He said counter service was still available at the Narre Warren police station and that service delivery would not be affected.

“Victoria Police’s priority first and foremost is to ensure the safety of its people and the community,” the spokesman said.

“The station has been closed for a professional deep clean.”

— Mark Buttler

BUSINESSES HOPE FOR A COMMON SENSE APPROACH

Getting the return to work right is crucial to avoid taking an even greater step back, the owner of a popular Windsor restaurant says.

Will Newton, the owner of Chapel St’s Lover, said the government had been hammered about the pandemic, but they had been taking advice from epidemiologists who been preparing for a crisis like this their entire careers.

He hoped there would be a commonsense approach this time.

“I feel we have been treated a bit like it was our fault and we did some of this on purpose. So there is nowhere to reach out to. There is a bunch of things that were put into place last time, like the maximum per table rule – that seemed sort of redundant. But I understand they are talking to more industry this time.”

Personal trainer Nathan Weidemann is hoping for some reprieve for his small business in the state government road map expected to be announced on Sunday because Victoria’s fitness industry has been “completely decimated” by the pandemic.

“Our business has come to a grinding halt because of this,” Mr Weidemann said.

For Mr Weidemann, owner of Vision Personal Training in Prahran, the necessary course of action is simple.

“We just need to open,” he said.

Mr Weidemann said the complete closure of gyms under Premier Andrew’s stage four restrictions made little sense because fitness plays a crucial role in people’s wellbeing.

“It is about more than just exercise – our business is so important for people’s mental health”, Mr Weidemann said.

“People need us,” he said.

– Andrew Koubaridis and Olivia Jenkins

MELBOURNE WOMAN ENDS SA COVID-FREE STREAK

A Melbourne woman travelling illegally through South Australia has ended the state’s COVID-19-free streak.

The infectious woman, in her 20s, became the state’s 464th case after 12 days of zero new patients and three days of SA being virus-free.

She illegally flew from Melbourne on Thursday on a Jetstar flight JQ774 bound for the Northern Territory with four young cousins, aged between 10 and 17.

– Andrew Hough

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