Announcing the relaxation of restrictions at a news conference on Monday, Victoria Premier Daniel Andrews said starting on Tuesday at 11:59 p.m., Melbourne residents will be allowed to leave their homes and most businesses in the state can reopen with restrictions on the number of people.
“With 0 cases and so much testing, we are able to say that now is the time to open up. Now is the time to congratulate every single Victorian who has stayed the course,” Andrews said.
The steep decline in cases has allowed the government to lift major social distancing measures that have been in place for weeks.
As cases began skyrocketing this summer, Andrews put in place the type of strict anti-epidemic measures that governments in Western Europe and the United States have been hesitant to enact out of fear of damaging the economy and trampling on civil liberties.
East Asian governments including those in China, South Korea and Taiwan have not needed to put in place such restrictions because early efforts to contain the virus focused on testing and contact tracing, combined with the readiness of their respective populations to wear masks and follow social distancing guidelines, which helped keep the pandemic in check.
Andrews said Victoria was able to rein in the pandemic because of the public’s willingness to endure hardship, listen to the science and follow the rules.
“I could not be prouder than I am today to lead a state that has showed the courage, the compassion, and the character to get this job done. But it is not yet absolutely finished,” he said.
“We have to be vigilant in the weeks and months … until a vaccine comes, there is no normal. There is only Covid-normal.”
Under the relaxed measures, staff are allowed to immediately return to their businesses in order to prepare for customers and put in place anti-epidemic measures.
Some restrictions, including a 25-kilometer (15-mile) limit on travel and an internal border between Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, will remain in place until November 8.
Australian Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated the state for the drop in Covid-19 cases and lauded Victorians for the making “great progress in reducing the rate of Covid-19 infection.”
“They have played their part and sacrificed much in the pursuit of reaching those targets in the belief restrictions would be eased,” he said.
Morrison added that Victoria would open state borders by Christmas. They were closed as part of the federal government’s response to the pandemic.
Victoria and its capital Melbourne faced Australia’s worst outbreak of Covid-19 this Australian winter.
Andrews said Monday the government was not going to be “pushed by the loudest voices” to reopen before public health experts deemed it was safe to do so.
Andrews hinted earlier this month that authorities were considering lifting more restrictions if trends continued in the right direction. However, a small cluster of cases in Melbourne’s northern suburbs prompted him to put in place a “cautious pause” in order to test more than 4,000 residents, further delaying reopening.
Nearly all tests have come back negative. Andrews said health authorities can now rule out widespread community transmission.
“It was worth waiting to be sure,” he said.