LOWEST SINCE JUNE: Five cases, three deaths for Melbourne
Melbourne is on track to be reopened by October 19, in time to celebrate the AFL Grand Final.
Extensive new modelling shows Melburnians are well ahead of projections for overcoming Victoria's second coronavirus wave, with the citywide lockdown expected to be lifted a week earlier than previously forecast.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday confirmed Melbourne was tracking to open by October 19, which would allow people to gather in limited numbers to watch the October 24 Grand Final in outdoor settings at pubs and restaurants.
"In the modelling, we think that between broadly 12-17 October we will meet our targets," Mr Andrews said.
"However, as I said, many, many times, actuals always prompt the assumptions in any model. One event can change that.
"It's three weeks. If we stay the course, if we deal with, if we take what has been safely given today, nothing that's been done today or announced is unsafe."
Despite vastly improving projections under the latest modelling, health officials would need at least three weeks to assess the impact of the partial easing of restrictions announced on Sunday.
To take the next step and end the lockdown, Melbourne must reach a rolling 14-day average of fewer than five new cases and fewer than five "mystery" cases over a fortnight.
New modelling released by the Department of Health and Human Services revealed its internal calculations placed Melbourne's Reff number at .69 last week, while Doherty Institute modelling placed the Reff at .75 - both are ahead of schedule and would allow restrictions to ease if maintained.
The all important Reff number is the rate at which coronavirus is considered to be spreading and any number below one signals the virus retreating.
While those rates would allow opening in time for the Grand Final weekend, Victoria's Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng called for vigilance and warned that a superspreading, such as the recent Casey cluster, could easily knock the city off course.
Professor Cheng said there was "wiggle room" in the five-daily-case average, particularly if most new cases were in settings such as aged care homes or hotel quarantine.
"Victorians have demonstrated themselves to be pretty good at this, so they understand what it means not to want to do this all again," Professor Cheng said.
The need to maintain restrictions has been reinforced by modelling by the Burnett Institute, which showed easing the lockdown immediately - by opening up bars, clubs, workplaces and public gatherings - would come with a 41 per cent chance of a third coronavirus wave sweeping through Melbourne within four weeks.
Vice-president of the AFL Fans Association Cheryl Critchley said footy fans were excited by the prospect of watching the Grand Final outside with friends and family on October 24.
"Fans are so rapt that they might have the option to watch the final in groups," Ms Critchley said. "It's a tradition in Melbourne for fans to gather no matter where they are to watch the final, so I would say it's a big win for them if the restrictions do ease."
Ms Critchley said fans may have to get creative with their outside viewing options, but is sure they will find a way to adapt to watching the Grand Final in a way they never have before.
"If you have a small group you could watch on an iPad or phone," she said.
"It may be a bit hard to organise the logistics of it however."
HOSPO ANGER AS SMALL BUSINESSES LEFT BEHIND
About 127,000 more Victorians will be allowed to go back to work under eased restrictions, but the metro hospitality industry has received scant hope for a quick return to dining.
Angry industry representatives have submitted a revised safe operating plan to the state government demanding that restaurants, cafes and pubs be able to reopen in Melbourne from October 19.
And a key business lobby group has slammed the "draconian" state government for continuing to lock down small businesses for at least three weeks despite low coronavirus case numbers.
Under the step two plan announced by Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday, supermarkets and food distribution centres will return to full capacity, while worker limits will also increase for abattoirs, and seafood and meat processing plants.
Manufacturing can return with up to 90 per cent of its workforce, and sole traders doing gardening and landscaping can resume.
Many of the 127,000 extra workers returning will be from the unionised construction industry, with big sites allowed up to 85 per cent of the normal workforce, and eased restrictions for workers on small projects and at land developments.
Master Builders Assocation of Victoria CEO Rebecca Casson welcomed the changes, but added that there were still areas of the industry not able to go back to work.
"We will continue to advocate for changes on restrictions related to renovations at inhabited dwellings, including those that work outdoors and can abide by all safety protocols featured in the COVID-19 road map," she said.
Small Business Association executive director Bill Lang said the government was using draconian measures to destroy the lives of 1.4 million business owners "because we cannot contain the 200 or so people who have been asked to self-isolate with the virus".
"It is time that serious questions are asked why Melbourne, despite case numbers falling to the teens, remains closed for business when we have seen NSW successfully reduce similar numbers to zero today through their contact and trace management," he said.
Mr Andrews infuriated hospitality venues by offering no concessions.
"We want them back as close to normal as possible as soon as we possibly can. But the wicked nature of this thing (the virus) is, you've got that latency, that period where you just have to wait," he said.
The only hope the Premier gave was that Melbourne venues might at some stage be allowed to have indoor dining with limited patron numbers as applies now to regional Victoria.
"That's exactly what we'll do … if we can make a judgment that that is safe," he said.
But multiple restaurant owner Chris Lucas, who is leading an industry push against the government's plan, said indoor dining must reopen sooner rather than later.
"There's no reason whatsoever that the restaurant industry that's proven itself to be professional and safe, with not one single case since the pandemic began, shouldn't be able to reopen," he said.
Mr Lucas said the industry had given a revised safer operating plan to the government with a demand that indoor dining be allowed from October 19.
"The anger is palpable that nearly 280,000 young hospitality workers continue to suffer mental anguish and loss of income based on the whims of our Premier," he said.
The Australian Hotels Association wants patron limits for country pubs to be lifted from 10 to 20 people per enclosed space.
FACE SHIELDS NO LONGER ADEQUATE
Strict new mask rules will take effect in Victoria after face shields were ruled inadequate in the fight to stop COVID-19.
Daniel Andrews announced Victorians must cover their mouth and nose from today (Mon) or face a $200 fine, with a two week grace period before police begin enforcing the mandate.
"Face shields don't meet the test of covering your nose and your mouth," the Premier said.
"You can wear a face shield if you want to in terms of your eyes, but it would need to be accompanied by a mask and we would recommend a two-ply mask.
"A shield is akin to not wearing a face covering … we will give people the opportunity to transition."
Face coverings were made mandatory across Melbourne and the Mitchell shire on July 19.
Mr Andrews said there was no planned end date to the updated rule, acknowledging it would become harder for people as the mercury continued to rise.
"Getting into the warmer months, [there is a] degree of discomfort associated with them as it potentially gets hotter," Mr Andrews said.
But he said the benefits were "really clear … and they are not going anytime soon".
INSIDE THE PLAN TO GET KIDS BACK IN SCHOOLS
Primary school students will return to Melbourne classrooms in a fortnight, however the majority of high school pupils face further weeks of remote learning.
Melbourne parents are also celebrating as childcare centres are reopened to all children from today.
Students from prep to grade six, as well as those attending special schools and studying VCE or VCAL will return to at least some days of on-site learning from October 12.
The moves follows new Murdoch Children's Research Institute findings that young children are less infectious than previously believed, while Victorian schools have rarely driven COVID-19 outbreaks.
Read the full story here.
LABOR MPS SLAM ANDREWS OVER MIKAKOS' RESIGNATION
Labor MPs have been left "unsettled" by the sudden departure and treatment of Victoria's former Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, with some "disgusted" by her cold treatment at the hands of Daniel Andrews.
Government MPs have told the Herald Sun they were left shell shocked by Ms Mikakos' resignation with some lashing out at the Premier for not standing by his loyal minister.
"It has put a lot of people on edge," one government Minister said.
Read the full story here.
Originally published as Melbourne on track to reopen in time for AFL Grand Final