The total number of confirmed coronavirus cases in Victoria as of Sunday was 1561 – an increase of seven from the previous day.
Two of the cases are linked to Cedar Meats, taking the total for that cluster to 99. Three of the cases are returned travellers in hotel quarantine, while two are still being investigated. Eleven people are in hospital, with seven of those in intensive care.
Deputy Chief Health Officer Dr Annaliese van Diemen said only a “small number” of Cedar Meats employees – those who returned a negative test, had been cleared of COVID-19 or were not vulnerable – would be allowed to return when the Brooklyn facility opened on Monday.
More than 233,000 tests have been conducted as part of the Victorian government’s three-week blitz, with only 39 of those being positive for COVID-19, including 24 cases of community transmission.
The Premier indicated the state would continue ramping up its testing to provide insights into infection rates across the community, especially as restrictions are eased.
Almost 2000 teaching staff have been tested ahead of schools reopening in coming weeks.
Pubs, restaurants and cafes in Victoria have been open for takeaway only, while many venues in other states have begun reopening for a maximum 10 diners.
Patrons dining in must give their names, mobile numbers and addresses as a condition of entry, to help contact tracing in the event of a COVID-19 outbreak at the venue.
Tables will need to be 1.5 metres apart, and businesses must abide by physical distancing requirements of one person per four square metres.
Employees will be required to complete a check-list of their health status at the start of each shift. The state government will also work with the hospitality industry and unions on how to manage shared spaces such as entrances and bathrooms.
Bars and pubs that serve only drinks will not be allowed to reopen. Similarly, the public bar area of a pub must stay closed. Gaming areas and food courts will remain closed throughout June.
“Getting these venues back up and running is very important, ” Mr Andrews said.
“It’s got to be done in a safe and appropriate way, in a cautious way. We simply can’t have all the rules come off at once. We simply can’t go to a situation where there are hundreds and hundreds of people crammed into venues not maintaining that social distance.”
Under the first stage of reopening announced by Prime Minister Scott Morrison on Friday, cafes and restaurants must maintain social distancing of four square metres per customer.
However, each state has been allowed to choose when it introduces individual aspects of the national plan and Victoria has been most cautious in lifting restrictions.
“There are many other restrictions that remain in place: I’m not here to talk about gyms, I’m not here to talk about outdoor playgrounds, I’m not here to talk about overnight stays,” Mr Andrews said.
“We will have more to say in coming days.”
The Premier said that from June 1, as Victorians head out to cafes, restaurants and pubs, “we’ll be less talking about people staying home, and we’ll be asking them to stay safe”.
But the one thing that’s not changing from June is requiring people to work from home.
“It is the view of the Chief Health Officer and his team that if we have literally millions of people returning to office environments and other places of work, where they don’t need to be there, pressing lift buttons, opening doors, congregating in kitchens, sharing bathrooms – all the natural, normal things that happen which you can’t really protect against – that presents the biggest risk for the stability that we have experienced in our numbers to date.”
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos said the pandemic was not yet over.
“We’re heading in the right direction in terms of slowing down new cases in Victoria, particularly around community transmission, but this is not time for complacency. There is still a risk,” she said.
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Australian Hotels Association chief executive Paddy O’Sullivan welcomed the government’s announcement and said allowing 20 diners at a venue would be viable for many pubs and hotels.
“Today’s announcement is a big step in the right direction – the next phase will be the pub industry showing that it can trade under these initial arrangements, in order to prove to the government that we are up for the challenge to manage the COVID-19 issues,” he said.
But Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said the government had “dragged the chain” on lifting restrictions, saying the Premier had flattened the economy as well as the curve.
“He should be leaving decisions about opening small businesses and when it’s viable to the people who know best, and that’s small business owners themselves.
“Daniel Andrews by dragging the chain, by delaying the opening of these businesses, could well be putting them out of business permanently and Victorian’s simply can’t afford that.”
Sumeyya is a state political reporter for The Age.