Melbourne will go from the world’s most locked-down city to almost entirely free of restrictions next month, but the Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, has warned that a significantly expanded “vaccinated economy” will remain for 2022.
Victoria is expected to reach an 80% vaccination rate for those aged 16 and older from Friday – a week ahead of the date forecast – and hit the 90% (for those aged 12 and older) mark by 24 November.
The state recorded 1,935 new cases on Sunday, and 11 more deaths. The state is now at 73% full vaccination for those aged 16 and older (increasing at a rate of about a percentage point a day), but the number of people in hospital (787, up from 770 on Saturday), intensive care (146, compared to 144 on Saturday) and on a ventilator (93, 90 on Saturday) also continues to climb.
There are now 24,993 active cases in the state.
From 6pm on Friday, travel will be allowed throughout the state, and all retail businesses will reopen, subject to density requirements. Masks will no longer be required outside, and all children will return to learning in the classroom full-time.
On Sunday Andrews said he hoped the changes would allow those in Melbourne, who have not been able to leave the city since July, to enjoy a long weekend to coincide with the Melbourne Cup public holiday on 2 November.
Andrews also outlined the state’s plans when it reached a 90% vaccination rate. There would be no caps on any activity, and masks would only be required in the most high-risk settings. He hoped the first day of the 2021 Boxing Day Test would set a record for an Australian crowd since the pandemic started, and said Christmas would go ahead without restriction for those who were vaccinated.
“There is a fundamental agreement that we have reached with the Victorian community. We asked you to get vaccinated. You have done that in record time and record numbers,” Andrews said.
“That means we have to open the place up and we have to have a series of rules, we have to have settings, that are the lightest touch possible, the simplest, the most easily understood, that are as close to normal life as possible.
“That is what we committed to and that is what we are going to deliver.”
Unlike in New South Wales, where those who are unvaccinated will largely be allowed the same freedoms as those who are vaccinated from December, Andrews expects to keep restrictions limiting the activities of the unvaccinated throughout next year.
Those restrictions were expanded on Sunday, when Andrews made clear that non-essential retail and events would be vaccine mandated, effectively banning those who are unvaccinated from attending or working in those settings. Mandates already existed in numerous settings including some essential retail, construction, aged care and health.
Andrews confirmed this meant that those who were unvaccinated would be banned from attending anything from a bookshop to a pub to a football game until at least 2023.
He said this shift was largely because the unvaccinated continued to be the biggest burden on the health system. Of the 146 people in intensive care with Covid-19, Andrews said 93% were unvaccinated.
Andrews said he expected to make an announcement soon with his NSW counterpart, Dominic Perrottet, about a further easing in travel restrictions between the states.
In NSW, there were 296 new cases and four deaths recorded on Sunday.
The rate of people aged older than 16 who have received at least one dose has reached 93%, and the rate of full vaccination for the same age group is 84.4%.
The number of people in hospital has increased from 469 on Saturday to 480, but the number in intensive care has fallen from 123 to 119.
On Sunday, Perrottet and the NSW tourism minister, Stuart Ayres, announced a new campaign to sell the state to domestic and international visitors as it reopens.
The campaign goes beyond Sydney’s iconic opera house and harbour bridge to sell other parts of the state, Ayres said.
“They are exceptionally beautiful. There’s no doubt about that. But this campaign is about moving a bit beyond them to be able to say they’re always going to be there,” he said.
– with Australian Associated Press