Steadily. Gradually. Staggered. Measured. Cautious.
These were the words Premier Daniel Andrews used on Sunday as he unveiled Victoria’s roadmap out of lockdown at a press conference. The messaging very much reflected that which he delivered 11 months ago, as the state was easing itself out of lockdown 2.0 – a gruelling 112-day stretch.
“The last 20 months have been all about buying us time to get vaccinated,” Andrews said today. “We cannot permanently suppress this virus.”
He noted there are 9076 first-dose Pzifer appointments and about 5000 first-dose Astra Zeneca appointments available (i.e. unfilled) for the coming week.
Once again the Victorian government has been working with the Burnet Institute, a not-for-profit medical research group, to deliver epidemiologic modelling that predicts future coronavirus case numbers and resulting hospitalisations and deaths. The roadmap out of lockdown is based on this report, which the government today made available with “no redactions, no omissions”.
“It does make for sobering reading,” Andrews warned reporters at the press conference. “It is, however, modelling. It makes assumptions. It assumes things that will and won’t happen over a period of time.
“On or about December 15, cases will peak at about 4500. Towards the end of December, hospital admissions will peak at about 3150. And in January, deaths due to Covid-19 and the Delta variant will peak at around 2200. These are sobering numbers.”
Despite this, he said reopening is “inevitable” and outlined a four-step plan for exiting lockdown, built around specific vaccination targets. He stressed that the plan is subject to change at any time depending on how much stress the health care system is under, as modelling is imperfect and predicts the future, rather than knowing it for sure.
“There will be some difficult days and weeks in our health system,” Andrews said. “We will monitor very closely this inevitable opening up.”
NSW, Andrews acknowledged, is vaccinating faster than Victoria (“because of vaccine prioritisation”) and will reopen slightly faster. But his government will be watching NSW closely and adjusting Victoria’s own reopening plan in line with new information.
“This is an aspirational, but I think realistic, plan,” Andrews said.
Phase A: 80 per cent of over-16s single-dosed
This first vaccination target is expected to be achieved on or about September 26. When this occurs, basketball, golf, tennis, cricket and other outdoor recreational activities will return in Melbourne, but with the same limits as picnics (which is currently two unvaccinated people or five fully vaccinated people from a maximum of two households). Up to five people will be able to attend personal training sessions outside.
From October 5 students can return to sit the GAT, and from October 6, VCE students studying units three and four can return to face-to-face learning, alongside final year VCAL and IB students.
From October 18, prep students will return to school three days per week, and grade one and two students will return two days per week.
Phase B: 70 per cent of over-16s double-dosed
The state is expected to hit this vaccination target around October 26. After that, lockdown will end. There will be no curfew. Up to 10 fully vaccinated people will be able to gather outdoors, and pubs, clubs and entertainment venues will open to up to 50 fully vaccinated people, to be seated outdoors only. All students will return to school part- or full-time. Hairdressers and other beauty businesses will open to five fully vaccinated people at a time.
Phase C: 80 per cent of over-16s double-dosed
This target will be achieved around November 5. At this time regional Victoria and metro Melbourne will return to the same set of rules. Masks will only be required indoors. All retail stores will reopen. Homes will be allowed up to 10 visitors (including dependents), and up to 30 people will be able to gather in public. Up to 150 fully vaccinated people will be able to dine indoors at restaurants and pubs (seated only), with up to 500 outside. People who are fully vaccinated will be able to return to offices and other workplaces. All students will return to school “as close to a normal, pre-Covid, fully open environment” as possible, and childcare and early learning centres will reopen.
Phase D: 80 per cent of over-12s double-dosed
This target will be achieved around November 19, at which point Victoria will slot into a plan set by national cabinet, with more details to be revealed. For now it is expected that up to 30 guests will be allowed at homes on Christmas Day.
On Sunday, Victoria recorded 507 new locally acquired cases of coronavirus, and one death. There are 204 people in hospital due to the virus, including 55 in ICU. Of those 204, 87 per cent were unvaccinated. Only one per cent were fully vaccinated.