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Mask easing marks start of path to a normal life, experts say

“It just stands to reason that as you move through the vaccination program … perhaps the risk is deemed lower and there are more things we can do.”

The Premier said there were no plans so far to allow international flights back to Melbourne, leaving Victoria’s hotel quarantine system that suffered three breaches since the start of the year paused indefinitely.

Professor Bennett called tough measures such as lockdowns a safety net that becomes increasingly less necessary as the country’s most vulnerable become vaccinated.

“We’re essentially getting vaccinated against interruption and against this virus at the same time,” she said.

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Associate Professor Hassan Vally, a public health expert with La Trobe University, said each vaccination should increase confidence so that little to no restrictions would be necessary in the second half of the year.

“Every percentage point will hopefully make virus escapes from hotel quarantine less likely and will certainly make the implications less,” he said. “We can take a breath and life becomes less dramatic I think.”

The Andrews government agreed to pay the NSW government $34.3 million for the cost of accommodating Victorians in hotel quarantine.

The Queensland government is refusing to pay NSW the $30 million it owes until the federal government approves its proposed regional quarantine hub but Victorian Treasurer Tim Pallas has struck a deal where Victoria’s bill will be partially offset by the cost of any NSW residents who quarantined in Victoria.

Mr Andrews expressed hope that interstate border closures could be avoided and flight numbers could pick up after speaking with Qantas chief executive Alan Joyce on Wednesday.

Following weeks of calls from business groups for certainty on restrictions, Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said Friday should mark a point of no return.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra expressed hope for the future.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra expressed hope for the future.Credit:Penny Stephens

“We’ve got to believe in our contact tracing system. We can’t see another breach out of hotel quarantine. And then let’s accelerate the vaccine rollout. We need all three of those things to work to give Victorians confidence that we can move into the future without another setback,” he said.

Mr Guerra welcomed the office capacity boost to 75 per cent, which he said gave companies and workers “enough room to experiment” with a hybrid return to work.

Mr Andrews said he wanted ANZAC Day celebrations on April 25 “much closer to a normal ANZAC Day” than last year but discussions were ongoing with groups such as ANZAC House as to how events such as the Dawn Service can proceed.

In other positive announcements on Friday, crowd capacity at the MCG and Marvel Stadium will be 50 per cent from round one on March 18.

With more Victorians set to attend events such as AFL matches, Public Transport Minister Ben Carroll said a four-week grace period would apply to enforcing QR codes in ride-share vehicles as well as the new software linking private businesses with the state’s contact tracing system.

“The health experts have told us that commercial passenger vehicles are a high-risk industry as we continue to open up safely, so we are introducing QR codes to give passengers and drivers peace of mind in the event of a positive case,” he said.

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