“We have gone from 725 cases to now down into the 30s,” said Premier Daniel Andrews, who was full of praise for Victorians on Monday.
“That is a mighty effort. It is something every Victorian, regardless of whether you’re in the regions, the suburbs, or the centre of Melbourne, … should be proud and pleased to see.”
For Melbourne to move to step two in the road map out of restrictions, the 14-day case average needs to fall below 50 by September 28.
“It will drop below 50 by the end of the week, I am sure,” said Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton.
He promised the closely watched average figure will be tweeted out each morning by the Department of Health and Human Services from tomorrow.
For regional Victoria to skip ahead to step three, where all students return to school and restaurants and cafes reopen to seated customers, its 14-day average must remain below five and it must also record zero “mystery” cases (where the source of infection cannot be traced) over the previous 14 days.
“Hopefully we can have very good news for regional Victoria tomorrow. That is subject to the numbers that come in today,” Mr Andrews said.
“That should be a great boost for everybody, not just in regional Victoria, but in metropolitan Melbourne.”
The Premier renewed his plea for Victorians, even with the mildest symptoms, to get tested for the virus after 8937 tests were carried out on Sunday, far fewer than the preferred 20,000 tests.
“We don’t want any steps in this safe and steady road map to be deferred or to be compromised,” he said.
No new cases in country Victoria
No new COVID-19 cases were reported in regional Victoria on Monday.
The south-west town of Colac, where a second outbreak linked to the Bulla Dairy factory was triggered by a resident who returned from Melbourne, has 23 active cases. Greater Geelong has six active cases, while Bendigo has one. Ballarat is currently COVID-free.
“We’re pleased to think we will be able to take those big steps, but safe steps, towards opening regional Victoria up,” Mr Andrews said.
Under changes to restrictions for regional Victoria overnight, there can now be public gatherings outdoors of up to five people from a maximum of two households. Infants aged under 12 months are not counted.
People who live alone or single parents with children under 18 can have one nominated person visit their home. Childcare in regional areas will be open to all children and in term four, schools will be reopened in stages, with safety measures.
Retail outlets in regional Victoria, including hairdressers, will open, with some restrictions on numbers.
But Professor Sutton warned against complacency, particularly in the country.
“I don’t want anyone looking at the daily numbers by postcode and saying, ‘There are no cases in my postcode, what is the issue here?’ I am sure someone in Wuhan in January said, ‘We have only got 100 cases, why is the city being locked down?’ We can’t have short-term memories on this,” Professor Sutton said.
“We have to consider Victoria as a whole and do the right thing, no matter what it looks like locally for us.”
Nine cases emerge in Hallam, Narre Warren
Professor Sutton urged residents of Hallam and Narre Warren to come forward for testing, after nine of Monday’s 35 new cases were from the area.
He said the Casey council area, which includes those suburbs and has a large multicultural community, was dealing with community transmission linked to high-risk workplaces.
“We haven’t linked all of the households definitively. They might be linked by a workplace that hasn’t been identified. They might be linked by going to a single setting that hasn’t been identified,” he said.
“It is a community that is a priority for engagement, a priority for testing for us. They do the right thing, but they have some vulnerabilities, in terms of where they are needing to work and how they are needing to work.”
Professor Sutton said he had made a personal offer to speak to residents in the area himself.
“Having been to Afghanistan a couple of times over the years, I want to be able to reflect on my cultural experiences and the fact I know that there are universal motivations that every family has to do the right thing to protect their own families and the wider community,” he said.
“That is absolutely the case here and I know they’re motivated to get on top of this as much as anyone.”
Victoria by the numbers
Of the state’s 1075 active cases (100 fewer than on Sunday), 176 are among healthcare workers, 513 are linked to aged care outbreaks and 10 are connected to disability facilities.
There are 122 Victorians in hospital fighting the virus, including 12 in intensive care and seven on ventilators.
Health officials have identified six new mystery cases of the virus, with no known source of infection.
A man in his 70s, a woman and man in their 80s and three men and one woman in their 90s died over the past day. Their deaths were all connected to aged care outbreaks. The state’s death toll increased to 729, after one death was removed from the tally due to duplication.
Forty-one cases were recorded on Sunday and 37 on Saturday, while 13 coronavirus-related deaths were reported over the weekend.
Greatest COVID risk is at a ‘mate’s place’
Mr Andrews announced a $100 million city recovery fund on Monday designed to help bars and restaurants take their operations to the streets this summer.
He said people were at less risk of contracting COVID-19 in restaurants than socialising with friends and family at home.
“We are often at our greatest risk when we’re at a mate’s place having dinner because there is no time limit, there is no waiter making sure we keep our distance,” he said.
“There is not necessarily all the kinds of infection control, cleaning tables, cleaning common areas, all of those things.”
Melbourne not at risk of losing Australian Open, Boxing Day Test
Mr Andrews said events including the Boxing Day Test and the Australian Open would go ahead in Melbourne, but look very different.
“It is too early for us to determine how big any crowd might be. We have taken that offline and we are having detailed discussions with … cricket authorities, the MCC [Melbourne Cricket Club], the whole AO [Australian Open] team … about what their event looks like,” he said.
“For instance, teams and players coming from overseas and coaches and officials will all have to quarantine. It won’t be an ordinary summer from that point of view. We will get as many people we can get there, provided it is safe.”
Rachael Dexter is a breaking news reporter at The Age.
Craig Butt joined The Age in 2011 and specialises in data-driven journalism.
Marissa Calligeros is a journalist at The Age