But Mr Andrews, who has consistently warned families to prepare to maintain the arduous remote-learning model until the present school term ends in late June, said he would take a slow and cautious approach to reopening classrooms, as well as every other facet of life affected by the pandemic lockdown.
“Plan for the whole of term two being at home unless you can’t be,” he said. “But if we could bring it forward, we would. I’ll have more to say about that next week.”
With the government having previously confirmed that it would give schools at least a week’s notice before resuming classroom learning, the earliest school could return would be May 20, if an announcement were to be made mid next week.
The three-stage plan to allow greater freedoms for Australians starts with measures allowing five visitors at home and gatherings of 10 people in businesses as the first step, as well as the reopening of primary and secondary schools.
But each state will set its own timetable for the return-to-normal plan and Mr Andrews warned Victoria would not include all of the changes in step one of the “national framework”.
While the ACT and Queensland announced widespread relaxations of their restrictions soon after national cabinet agreed on the framework, NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian took the same stance as Mr Andrews, with Ms Berejiklian announcing residents would have to wait until after the weekend to be told of updated rules.
On Friday afternoon, the Premier said changes in Victoria would be announced on Monday, but they would not take effect immediately.
“Next week, I’ll have more to say about what the rest of May looks like,” he said. “And then progressively we’ll talk about the second stage and the third stage and getting back to as close to normal as we can.
“Next week will be filled lots of different announcements that are cautious and careful but will, I think, be welcomed by Victorians, because they’re based on science, they are based on the biggest testing protocol that our country has seen right throughout this global pandemic.”
Victoria’s state of emergency expires on Monday, which is when the state government has said it will review school restrictions.
“The nature of that, I can’t pre-empt, because there’s still further work that has to be done.”
“We’ve always been keen to give parents as much notice as possible.
“We did that when we brought the school holidays forward and of course, we’ll do that if and when those policy settings change.”
Mr Andrews did not indicate that a schools announcement would come on Monday and teachers, principals and unions, who have all said they would follow the state’s medical advice on a return to classrooms, have indicated they would need at least one week’s notice before recommencing face-to-face learning.
Amid Friday’s developments, the state opposition was left fuming after learning that the Premier, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, Health Minister Jenny Mikakos and other senior ministers were refusing to appear in person at the state parliament’s inquiry next week into the COVID-19 pandemic, and would instead take part via video link.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the government, which has cited social distancing precautions for its decision, had no excuse for “not fronting up” to the committee holding the inquiry after parliament had been suspended, along with other avenues of parliamentary oversight.
More than 127,000 people have come forward to be tested for coronavirus during the government’s two-week blitz – far exceeding the government’s target of 100,000.
The number of active COVID-19 cases has fallen to 738 nationwide from 1461 two weeks ago, according to federal figures. On Friday afternoon there were 517 active cases in NSW, 123 in Victoria, 45 in Queensland, 39 in Tasmania, 9 in Western Australia, two in the Northern Territory and one in the ACT.
A further 13 confirmed cases in Victoria were announced on Friday, bringing the total number diagnosed in the state to 1467.
Decisions on lifting restrictions, and when they will be announced, still hinge on the results of the unprecedented testing program which will be assessed by Professor Sutton and his team.
“Nothing changes today, nothing changes tomorrow, nothing changes Sunday, the rules remain in place,” the Premier said on Friday.
“Let’s not give everything back, let’s not throw away all the progress we’ve made by letting our frustration get the better of us … We just have to be a little patient for a little longer.”
Mr Andrews said Victoria was not like other states “that have literally had no community transmission”.
“We have many more [cases of] community transmission and that’s been a feature of Victoria,” he said.
About one in 10 coronavirus cases in the state are the result of unknown community transmission.
With David Crowe
Noel Towell is State Political Editor for The Age
Benjamin is a state political reporter