Restrictions across Victoria will ease significantly from Friday, despite the state recording five new locally acquired Covid-19 cases overnight, including a “concerning” infection of a vaccinated nurse at a private hospital.
Acting premier James Merlino has announced that from 11.59pm Thursday all internal travel restrictions will be removed in Melbourne, including allowing city residents to travel into the regions.
“Since the pandemic started, distance has been one of the hardest things to live with,” Merlino said.
“We have been waiting to see those people and places that we love, which is why I am very pleased to confirm that on the advice of the chief health officer, the metropolitan border and the 25km limit will be removed, and the state will come back together from 11.59pm tomorrow night.”
In Melbourne, up to 20 people can soon gather in public and two visitors will be allowed in the home per day. Masks will no longer be required outside but must be carried and worn in public indoor spaces such as shops, trains and rideshare vehicles, and in scenarios outdoors where social distancing is impossible.
All businesses can now reopen, including gyms and indoor entertainment venues, which missed out in the last round, and limits on people attending religious, hospitality and entertainment venues will increase.
Those who can work from home should continue to do so, but if required, up to 50% of staff can now return to the office.
Restrictions in regional Victoria will also relax and despite the remaining differences in Covid rules, people will be able to travel in and out of greater Melbourne.
Public gatherings will be increased to 50 people, and people can host five adult visitors a day in their home. Hospitality density quotas have increased to two people per two square metres, funerals can now have 100 mourners, and religious gatherings can have up to 300. Office capacity will also return to 75%.
“We want to keep regional Victoria free of this virus, which is why the public team have recommended stronger settings for metropolitan Melbourne as extra protection as we run down these remaining cases,” Merlino said.
For example, he said, Melburnians travelling to the snow must get a Covid test within 72 hours of departing for Victoria’s Alpine resorts.
The changes comes after a large central Melbourne apartment block - Kings Park in Southbank - was thrust into lockdown after contact tracers identified the virus had transmitted between some residents in the shared stairs and walkways of the 100-unit townhouse complex.
On Wednesday morning the health department confirmed two of the five new cases were those announced the previous day.
Two of the other new cases were also connected to Kings Park, and were primary close contacts of a previously reported case from that block of units.
The final new case is a vaccinated nurse working on the Covid-19 ward of the Epping Private hospital.
“[She was] one of the nurses supporting residents who were relocated there 10 days ago. We are concerned about this case and an incident response team is working [through] the circumstances,” Victoria’s coronavirus commander, Jeroen Weimar, said.
“She worked two shifts in June. She may have been infectious for the second shift.”
He said all staff at the private hospital working in the same area had received their first vaccine dose.
These cases came out of more than 17,000 tests, with the state also administering 14,870 vaccine doses on Wednesday.
Contact tracers tested 200 people at the Kings Park apartment complex on Monday after determining that a resident who tested positive on Friday had likely caught the virus from their neighbour, who worked at the Arcare Maidstone aged care centre.
Anyone who had been at the Southbank building on Melbourne’s Southbank between 2 and 14 June was ordered on Tuesday to isolate for 14 days.
Both new cases are adult men who live in separate apartments that are “connected to some communal areas which we are concerned about”, Weimar, said.
“We’ve got indications of transmission in some communal areas. We haven’t got evidence of transmission between people’s front doors so it’s not a hotel quarantine-type scenario.
“You’ve got apartments that are operating on communal hallways and stairwells, two separate hallways and stairwells are involved. Some of those we’ve now seen evidence of infection, others not.”
More than 30 new exposure sites in Port Melbourne, Richmond, Southbank, South Melbourne and the CBD were listed overnight.
South Melbourne Market will be closed on Wednesday for deep cleaning after it was listed as a tier 2 exposure site following the visit of a confirmed case on 12 June.
Padre Coffee, within the market, has been listed as a tier 1 site, meaning anyone who visited between 11.30am and 12.30pm on Saturday will be required to self-isolate for 14 days.
With additional reporting by the Australian Associated Press.