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Melbourne is set for a lockdown reprieve on Friday.
Senior Victorian government sources say they are very confident the city’s lockdown will not be extended again, unless there is a dramatic rise in mystery cases.
Restrictions similar to those that regional Victoria moved to last Friday are expected to instead come into force in the city.
These are likely to include mask wearing indoors, bans or caps on home gatherings and public get-togethers, and caps and density limits on offices, venues, bars and restaurants.
But schools are expected to return to face-to-face learning and children’s sport to resume.
“We are certainly on course to lift the lockdown as scheduled,” one senior source said.
“Unless there is a massive shock, we would be expecting that to happen.”
Sources said that even if there was a “lesser setback”, many in cabinet would strongly resist an extension of the lockdown, originally imposed as a seven-day circuit-breaker.
The Herald Sun understands key industries were on Monday afternoon briefed on the planned easing of restrictions. Covid-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar and senior government ministers held the briefing, which also underlined the success of the state’s contact tracing regime to bolster confidence for when business reopens.
A couple of days of double-digit increases in new cases – such as Monday – would not necessarily halt the planned easing of Melbourne’s lockdown as evidence mounts that outstanding outbreaks are being contained.
Despite initial alarm that Victoria had recorded a surge of 11 Covid-19 cases overnight on Sunday, confirmation that all were connected to existing clusters – including eight cases among quarantining close contacts – kept the state on track to ease restrictions after Thursday.
As thousands of Victorians identified as primary close contacts in the early days of the Whittlesea outbreak reach the end of their quarantine, each will have to undergo a 13-day Covid test, raising the likelihood that asymptomatic but contained cases will be detected.
Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Monday pushed for Melbourne to be reopened “as soon as possible”, referring to the northern beaches outbreak that led to restrictions focused only on specific parts of Sydney in December.
“Hopefully (we) see Victoria opened again soon. Particularly for those parents who are having to keep their kids at home away from school. Kids have lost enough time out of school, over the course of the last 18 months,” he said.
But chief health officer Brett Sutton said the increased infectiousness of the Kappa and Delta variants required strong action, even if it had a devastating effect.
“It is more than pain, it is supremely challenging for businesses to survive with what lockdown does. That is part of the broader considerations of cabinet,” Prof Sutton said.
“These 11 new cases today is what has happened after a week and a half of a very stringent lockdown. I can’t tell you what an alternative universe would look like if we hadn’t locked down, but … if you had the opportunity for a number of people to come to your household every day over the last 10 days, then it might look very different.”
The latest cases include a worker and resident at Arcare Maidstone first revealed on Sunday, plus another aged-care worker from the home.
Three household members of existing cases in the Whittlesea cluster were also confirmed, while a cleaner from a Queen St building site was linked to the Port Melbourne cluster. Four cases are household contacts of the West Melbourne outbreak, including three children and one adult, who have the more infectious Delta variant.
An Australia-wide trawl of past genetic sequencing records has failed to find any clues about how the Delta variant entered Victoria.
VIC GOVT DENIES ITS HOARDING VACCINES
The Victorian government has sought to clear up days of mixed messaging about its vaccine strategy, with its Covid-19 tsar declaring the state wouldn’t be saving up doses for second vaccinations.
The Herald Sun revealed on Monday the federal government had grown frustrated with Victoria’s insistence on storing supplies for second doses, even as it complained of supply shortages while Victorians faced long waits to get the vaccine.
The latest figures show the state government will have received 1,000,750 doses by this week but has so far administered 650,878. Victoria’s utilisation rate has now improved to 93 per cent – better than other states – as 787,780 doses were deemed to have been available after they were delivered by May 30.
But federal chief medical officer Paul Kelly confirmed on Monday the issue of Victoria storing second doses had been raised in various forums, after Prime Minister Scott Morrison encouraged states to use up their supplies at last Friday’s national cabinet meeting.
National vaccine operations centre co-ordinator Commodore Eric Young said: “There’s no need for them to hold back second doses as they will be provided by us.”
Victorian Covid-19 response commander Jeroen Weimar denied the state was putting doses in reserve for second shots.
“We will vaccinate with as much of the vaccine as we can possibly get hold of,” he said.
“All the vaccine we get flows through into our clinics in about a week’s time and then flows into people’s arms.”
Originally published as Melbourne finally set for lockdown reprieve