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Swimmer found unresponsive in Melbourne’s inner suburbs


A 61-year-old swimmer has died after being found unresponsive at a public pool in Melbourne’s inner suburbs.

Emergency services were called to Fitzroy swimming pool, on Alexandra Parade, shortly after 10am on Friday.

A police officer and lifeguard seen through the fence of the Fitzroy pool following a reported drowning there today.

A police officer and lifeguard seen through the fence of the Fitzroy pool following a reported drowning there today.Credit:Harry Rekas

A police spokeswoman said paramedics worked on the man but he died at the scene.

The death is not being treated as suspicious. Police will now prepare a report for the coroner.

The 50-metre outdoor swimming pool reopened for lap swimming, water exercise and rehabilitation at the end of September when COVID-19 restrictions were eased in metropolitan Melbourne.

Currently, outdoor pool capacities are capped at 50 swimmers with hour-long session. Indoors pools remain closed.

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Big Issue vendors return to Melbourne’s streets


“I didn’t like it. It’s very, very confusing.”

Michael, who wanted to keep his last name private, said exercise, watching less television and receiving help from a friend lifted his spirits.

He also tried to keep his sorrows in perspective.

“I’m still here, I got through it,” he said. “We’re lucky we’ve got jobs to go back to.”

And he doesn’t have to wait any longer, with Big Issue vendors, who have all been COVID-trained, donning their fluoro vests and heading back out onto the streets on Friday.

Vendors purchase magazines for $4.50 and sell them for $9, allowing them to earn an income.

Big Issue chief executive Stephen Persson said it was incredibly hard having to tell the vendors they couldn’t work during the shutdown.

“It’s the first time in 24 years where we’ve not been able to provide marginalised, homeless people with the opportunity to work their way out of their circumstances,” he said.

“To take that opportunity away was one of the most challenging things I’ve ever had to do.”

Mr Persson said the organisation raised money for a hardship fund to help vendors and provided them with ongoing support.

But nevertheless, the organisation was concerned about vendors’ welfare.

Mr Persson said he was relieved when he heard they could go back to work.

“It was just wonderful and the excitement has been overwhelming,” he said.

Michael, who sells the magazine outside Prahran market or near the Centreway Arcade in Melbourne’s CBD, said he couldn’t wait to see his customers again, especially one named Bill.

“He’s a friendly guy, he’s always smiling. He always comes up to me and shakes my hand,” he said.

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It’s over! Melbourne’s long lockdown to end on Tuesday night


An emotional Mr Andrews paid tribute to the “kindness and commitment and courage” shown by millions of Melburnians over the difficult recent months.

“We haven’t had a zero case day for a long time, which is why it is emotional, because people have been through a lot,” Mr Andrews said.

“People have done amazing things, [shown] extraordinary acts of kindness and commitment and courage.

“None of this has been easy but Victorians have shown what they are made of, looking out for each other, protecting and caring for each other but also knowing that this virus does not discriminate.”

The state recorded no cases of the virus on Monday, for the first time since June, and another 1100 tests from the suburbs affected by the northern cluster all came back negative on Monday afternoon.

But Mr Andrews warned that some restrictions, especially on in-home gatherings, would remain in place for the foreseeable future, face masks in public will remain mandatory and Melbourne would not be able to fully return to normal until a vaccine is available.

New rules on home visits, now considered the most risky environment for transmission of the virus, will be announced on Tuesday and workers who can do their jobs from home are to continue working remotely until further notice, the Premier said.

But outdoor religious gatherings and exercise classes will be allowed again from Tuesday night with limited numbers while some restrictions on outdoor social gatherings will be relaxed and beauty, personal services and tattooists can re-open with customers and staff wearing masks.

The 25-kilometre travel limit and the metro-regional ‘ring of steel’ will be enforced until November 8 with gyms and other indoor fitness facilities also due to open that day if case numbers remain low.

Mr Andrews said he was optimistic that the systems now in place would help the Victorian community avoid another wave of COVID-19 infections.

“If we all play a part, I’m confident we can keep this at bay,” he said.

“That doesn’t mean zero every single day. There will be cases. There will be outbreaks.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison congratulated Melburnians on their achievement in bring the virus under control and said that Monday’s announcement was an important step toward opening up freedom of movement around the nation.

“Of course, there is a lot further to go and a lot more decisions,” Mr Morrison said. “This is basically the first step on that three-step plan to reopen Australia by Christmas.”

“For now, I want to say thank you and congratulations. You have done it really tough in Melbourne and across Victoria over recent months,” he said.

After months of serious tension between the state and federal governments, the Prime Minister struck a conciliatory tone, thanking Mr Andrews for making the call to ease restrictions and saying he was looking forward to working with the Premier on additional steps to reopen over the coming months.

Monday’s announcement headed off a planned rebellion by more than 30 of Melbourne’s most prominent restaurants and fine-dining institutions, including Florentino, Flower Drum, Chin Chin and Citta, who had planned to defy the restrictions and throw open their doors on Wednesday if the Andrews government failed to act.

The Age spoke to several prominent restaurateurs and chefs involved in the secret plan, who said they were willing to risk hefty fines and possible arrests to save their embattled businesses, if restrictions were not eased.

Prominent epidemiologists told The Age the time was right to reopen the city, with the success in containing the northern suburbs outbreak justifying a high degree of confidence in the contact-tracing system.

While there was some surprise among the experts at the success of health authorities in driving case numbers down to zero, there were warnings that while the virus continued to circulate in Melbourne, the risk of a resurgence remained real.

Melbourne University professor Tony Blakely paid tribute to the efforts of Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and his deputy Allan Cheng.

“I’m pleasantly surprised we got down here,” Professor Blakely said.

“I thought it was a big ask to get to them by now. It’s gone extremely well.”

As the state prepared on Monday afternoon for Mr Andrews’ announcement, there was a sharp reminder from Canberra of the toll the long lockdowns have taken. The federal Health Department told a Senate estimates committee hearing that demand for mental health services in the state had soared in recent months.

Demand for Kids Helpline services rose by 61 per cent, Beyond Blue help went up by 67 per cent and Lifeline calls rose by 40 per cent, the department’s first assistant secretary Mark Roddam told the committee.

Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said the Premier was self-congratulatory as he announced restrictions would be lifted.

The Liberal leader said Mr Andrews was seeking ‘a pat on the back” and his focus should turn to rejuvenating the crippled economy.

“It’s been a terrible price to pay for a problem that should never have occurred … There will be scars on the psyche of this state that will not heal,” Mr O’Brien said.

“Hotel quarantine gave us the second wave and bungled contact tracing has kept us in it for far too long.

“This is an achievement for Victorians, not for the politicians whose mistakes led us here in the first place.”

Victoria’s business groups broadly welcomed Monday’s announcement with the state’s branch of the Australian Industry Group predicting immediate bounce, created by pent-up consumer demand across the economy.

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Paul Guerra, the chief executive officer of the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, said Monday’s state government announcement of impending eased restrictions was “fantastic” and urged Melburnians to “get out and enjoy this state”.

Tim Piper, the Victorian head of the Australian Industry Group, which represents businesses in manufacturing, engineering, construction and other sectors, said Monday was “an absolutely vital day for the Victorian economy and a historic day for Victoria because it affects so many people”.

“Everybody wants to spend money right now,” he said. “Our concern is what will happen when that bounce slows down, and when JobKeeper ends in March.”

Mr Piper said it was crucial the Victorian budget, due in early November, was “different to normal state budgets”.

“We need a different type of spending coming; it can’t just be infrastructure.”

But the pubs lobby, the Australian Hotels Association, said many venues were saddled with big debts from their months of closure and would continue to struggle for viability with reduced patron numbers.

“The plans announced today are a step in the right direction, but they still do not meet the
viability test to save our Pubs from the debts they are facing,” association president David Canny said.

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Tom Gunn, general manager of Proud Mary Café in Collingwood, struck an optimistic note at being able to welcome diners back into the business, with plans to hire up to nine new staff to cope with the expected demand from locals kept away from their neighbourhood eateries for months.

“We need to hire a couple of chefs, we need to hire about six or seven front of house staff,” Mr Gunn said.

“I think Melburnians have been starved of the one thing they obsess over, and that’s the cafe life.

“I would be surprised if it’s not one of the busiest summer’s we’ve had.”

With Liam Mannix and Bianca Hall

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Melbourne’s restrictions remain in place as state records seven new COVID-19 cases


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Victoria recorded seven new cases of COVID-19 on Sunday – the same number as Saturday – and no new deaths. The state’s 14-day rolling average dropped to 4.9, just below the threshold of five that was initially set to move to the next phase of the reopening road map.

Mr Andrews said he hoped to be able to announce an easing of restrictions by Tuesday, once he was confident the northern suburbs outbreak was under control.

Mr Andrews acknowledged the deep frustration of Victorians and said his public health team needed to rule out the possibility of widespread community transmission in the northern suburbs. “I do hope to make definitive announcements about opening up metropolitan Melbourne in a couple of days’ time,” he said.

Health authorities are sweating on about 60 key tests that will indicate the extent of the northern suburbs spread.

About 250 tests of first-ring close contacts – those who had direct contact with known cases – were tested on Saturday. On Sunday, a further 60 were expected to be tested, mostly from the East Preston Islamic College and Croxton special school which will remain closed this week.

Dedicated testing facilities have been set up to test members of these school communities. Anyone with links to the school, even if they were not showing symptoms, have been being urged to get tested.

“There are two sets here. We are very interested in the close contacts because we want to establish if there are any positive cases in that group, because they are the ones most likely to [test positive],” the state’s testing commander Jeroen Weimer said.

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“If we’re going to find any more cases, that is the area where we are most likely to find them. The purpose of the wider community testing approach … [is to test] workers at the schools but also anyone remotely symptomatic in the suburbs to get tested.”

Of about 17,200 tests completed on Friday, 2802 were in the northern suburbs – an increase of 35 per cent on the week before.

After a promising week of low, single-digit case numbers, the government had earlier advised retailers that staff could return to work to start preparing their stores from Wednesday this week in a “dark” opening.

In good news for regional Victoria, Mr Andrews said that from 11.59pm on Tuesday, indoor gyms and fitness spaces will be open to up to 20 people with a maximum of 10 people per space.

Indoor pools will be allowed to open to up to 20 people and indoor sport will begin for under 18s.

Food courts will be allowed to open and live music will be allowed outdoors. School graduations will also be permitted.

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Melbourne’s best-in-nation social distancing crushed the virus


Victoria has recorded 55 new cases in the last seven days – fewer than NSW, which has recorded 61. However, almost half of NSW’s cases were from overseas travellers. All of Victoria’s cases are local.

While Victoria’s caseload was similar, Professor McCaw cautioned there was less “confidence” in local data than in NSW’s figures, which have been low for a long time.

Waiting to stabilise numbers while also making gradual changes to observe their impact remained the sensible approach, “even if I think a little more could have been announced today”, he said.

Professor McCaw’s Doherty Institute-led team has found only minor breaches of Victoria’s many restrictions in the past month of a lockdown that has lasted more than 100 days.

“There has been a very, very gentle, slight decline in compliance with the 1.5-metre rule and things like that over the last month. It’s marginal,” he said. “There are signs of a bit of lockdown fatigue. That may also be that the weather is nicer.”

Professor McCaw said Premier Daniel Andrews’ move on Sunday to ease some lockdown restrictions while keeping hospitality closed for at least another week was “a rational and principled approach. It is just an incredibly cautious one.”

After the state’s fifth day with fewer than 10 new cases, Mr Andrews on Sunday moved to expand Melburnians’ travel bubble to 25 kilometres and allow up to 10 people to gather outside.

Writing in The Age, Professor Catherine Bennett and a team of epidemiologists argue there was no justification for maintaining a 25-kilometre travel limit, maintaining that improved contact tracing removes “the need for hard borders or limits on movement”.

Other experts agreed the 25-kilometre limit served little purpose. “I don’t see any real strong reason for a limit at all,” said Professor McCaw.

Associate Professor Hassan Vally from La Trobe University said the rule did not directly stop the virus spreading.

“What spreads the virus is people coming into contact with each other. If people follow the rules, you could say maybe we don’t need that sort of travel restriction.”

Hospitality will have to wait at least another week before it can reopen – a decision that drew furious outcry from a disappointed business lobby.

Mr Andrews said all the decisions were based on public health advice.

“The science is driving us,” he said.

But epidemiologists told The Age the science offered no clear rules on what restrictions should be eased first. “There is no right answer to any of this,” said Professor Vally.

Restaurants, cafes and retail pose much greater risks because they often involve people spending prolonged time indoors, experts say.

The virus spreads about 20 times more easily inside and super-spreader events happen almost-exclusively indoors.

Professor Vally said restrictions could have been eased further.

“I personally think we can afford to come out a bit quicker than this. What we have seen in the last few days, one or two cases, I see no reason why that won’t continue throughout the week. And the people who tested positive today, they probably got infected about a week ago. They could have released the shackles a bit more.”

NSW’s restrictions remain far less onerous than Victoria’s.

The state allows up to 20 people to visit a home. Restaurants and pubs are open, with the NSW government on Friday easing capacity limits even further.

Outdoor events can have up to 500 people. The state recently opened up its borders to tourists from New Zealand for the first time.

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The people behind Melbourne’s struggling shopfronts


When businesses open, the last thing they spend money on is new signage, he says. He’s struggling on, but has painted just three signs for new businesses since the pandemic struck. Instead he’s taken to painting messages of frustration on his own front window: a long-nosed Pinocchio caricature of Daniel Andrews saying “I’m a real poli” along with “Let us Lift!”; “Let us play!”; “Let us swim” #mentalhealth. JobKeeper is the only thing keeping Mr Gardner afloat, and he dreads the time when it’s removed.

Up and down this strip, shop owners have abandoned their premises. It’s hard to trace the people behind these empty and graffitied windows to work out just what combination of COVID or other misfortune has made them quit. But the shopfronts they leave behind stick out like broken teeth.

One of Sydney Road's broken teeth.

One of Sydney Road’s broken teeth.Credit:Justin McManus

The story is replicated across the state. Retail job losses have already far eclipsed the height of the 1990s recession and are projected to hit almost 400,000 annually over the next five years, according to a PriceWaterhouseCoopers study in August.

Australian Retailers Association chief executive Paul Zahra says that after being shut down for more than 70 days, up to half the small and medium retail businesses in Melbourne may not survive.

“The retail industry has its fate in the hands of a state government that seems to be focused on beating this virus at all costs,” he says.

From the city to Chapel Street in the south, and Sydney Road in the north, vacancies are up. Seventeen shops are vacant on Fitzroy Street, St Kilda, 16 in Acland Street Village, and 27 in Bay Street, Port Melbourne. There is little hard data yet about how many businesses have shut for good.

From his office 500 metres down the road from Attic Signs, Walshe and Whitelock real estate director David Sowersby has watched the comings and goings of this retail strip for more than 45 years. He can remember it being this bad only once before. “Maybe in the late 80s and early 90s when that recession hit there might have been about as many vacant then.”

He looks to the end of JobKeeper in March.

“The problem we’ve got is no one really knows, after the JobKeeper type things, when that dries up, how many people are going to throw in the keys then?”

How many more shops will close when JobKeeper ends, asks John Sowersby.

How many more shops will close when JobKeeper ends, asks John Sowersby.Credit:Justin McManus

He estimates 10 per cent of businesses along Sydney Road are now vacant but, with so much uncertainty about the path to reopening, no one can say how many others will never return.

Jessica Tolsma’s bakery Jessicakes is one of the dozens of businesses that make up Sydney Road’s famed bridal precinct. Her industry was essentially shut down more than seven months ago when national cabinet announced radical restrictions on the number of people who could attend weddings, and people cancelled in droves.

Ms Tolsma’s three-person operation has survived on a combination of JobKeeper, a grant from the Victorian government and a deal struck with her landlord to partly waive and partly defer rent.

Jessica Tolsma from Jessicakes.

Jessica Tolsma from Jessicakes. Credit:Justin McManus

“We’re lucky to run a business in a country where the government is at least trying to help,” she said. But the longer the lockdown keeps retail and hospitality in a deep freeze, the “less the math works”.

JobKeeper payments have already been slashed by half and are due to end in March, rent and bills are accruing and it’s not clear when or which parts of the retail and hospitality sector will be allowed to return to some kind of normal trading.

“It’s not looking good at all, short term or long term. It’s not going to go back to normal. It’s going to be this new ‘COVID normal’ and who knows what that’s going to look like.”

“Even if you’ve got deferred rent, it’s just backing up behind you. How well will your business have to do to get on top of it after all this time?”

The wedding industry has been simultaneously smashed by restrictions against in-store retailing and the likelihood of ongoing restrictions against indoor gatherings.

Right now Victorian weddings can only have 10 participants, including the couple. That will increase to 50 in the “last step” of the state’s coronavirus recovery road map, on a date yet to be fixed.

“Lots of my brides won’t reschedule their weddings until they are allowed 100 people,” Ms Tolsma said.”Some … have already had to postpone twice and they’re not going to replan until this stuff has stopped happening. And who knows when that’s going to be?”

She had limited optimism about the federal budget measures that encourage hiring and tax write-offs on capital expenditure.

“Who has the money for that? Who has the business to hire more staff,” Ms Tolsma said. “I don’t need more staff, I need more customers.”

Jeweller Ellinor Mazza, saved by going online.

Jeweller Ellinor Mazza, saved by going online.Credit:Justin McManus

Jeweller Ellinor Mazza says her decision a few years ago to push into online retailing, rather than just rely on her Sydney Road street frontage, has been keeping her afloat, just.

“My business went down 40 to 50 per cent. The custom work and the repairs we just can’t do right now, but our online sales have gone up,” she said. “It’s never going to be as much as you need but it’s helped balance it out. I know other businesses that closed on the same day as us (in August) and they haven’t been able to trade at all.”

But even with the online sales, JobKeeper and other government assistance is what has kept Arbor’s four employees and its owner on the books.

“More and more damage is being done the longer this drags on. You get the feeling that sometime next year the bottom is going to fall out. That maybe things won’t bounce back. And then it’s like, where do I go from here?”

And the federal budget measures? “It’s great if you’re operating and actually have some certainty. But being Victorian, I can’t even plan for the next week let alone for the next 12 months.”

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Hotelier appeals to High Court to end Melbourne’s lockdown


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In a statement to The Age, Mr Gerner said: “I am the Plaintiff and reside on the Mornington Peninsula where I own a restaurant and bar located in Sorrento. I will be represented by Bret Walker SC and Michael Wyles QC who will argue that the Victorian Government has engaged in an unnecessary lockdown of the state and the economy, denying our basic freedoms as Australian citizens under our Federal Constitution, including our right to freedom of movement.

“We will apply to the Court for a declaration confirming these freedoms and to set aside the disproportionate and unreasonable responses imposed by the Victorian Government. Being locked at home for 23 hours a day (now 22 hours), not being allowed to travel more than 5 kilometres from home, needing permits to work and travel, being denied the ability to see friends and family or work or go to school.

“This is not what we signed up for and is inconsistent with a free society, representative democratic government and civilised living. Aggressive and heavy-handed enforcement of these restrictions has also alarmed most fair-minded people.”

Monash University constitutional law expert Luke Beck said Mr Gerner would need the High Court to give him an expedited hearing.

Associate Professor Beck said the argument that there was an implied constitutional freedom of movement within states was “novel” and “bold”, but not without merit.

“I wouldn’t be holding my breath with this High Court,” he said. “It comes down to a question of proportionality in regards to the state’s response to a public health crisis … freedom of movement within states and freedom to own and use property are bold arguments. But there are examples of bold arguments being successful before.”

He said having Mr Walker argue the case would give Mr Gerner’s challenge significant impetus.

Mr Gerner owns Morgan’s restaurant and bar in Sorrento. A former director of the Melbourne Pub Group, which owned some of the city’s most famous hotels, Mr Gerner said he was not aligned to any political party.

The government has relied on sections of the Public Health and Wellbeing Act to restrict the ability of millions of Melburnians to move about, work and socialise in its efforts to reduce the spread of COVID-19.

A draft of Mr Gerner’s statement of claim seeks a High Court ruling on the validity of directions by Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act, arguing they are contrary to constitutional rights to implied freedom of movement within a state.

Mr Walker is perhaps Australia’s most prominent barrister. He led the NSW government’s royal commission into the Ruby Princess coronavirus fiasco earlier this year and represented Cardinal George Pell in his successful High Court appeal to have his child sexual abuse convictions overturned.

Mr Wyles is a respected Melbourne barrister who last month produced an opinion questioning the validity of Mr Andrews’ recently abandoned overnight curfew on Melburnians. He was state opposition leader Michael O’Brien’s counsel in his unsuccessful bid to be heard at the Victorian board of inquiry into hotel quarantine.

The legality of the curfew is being challenged in separate action in the Supreme Court of Victoria.

Mr Andrews has foreshadowed that some significant changes to restrictions would be announced on October 19, but that they were more likely to be social measures rather than economic. He and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the continuation of the five-kilometre limit to travel was being considered.

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Melbourne needs to average five or fewer positive test results per day for a fortnight for the present stage four restrictions to be eased. Melbourne recorded 12 new cases on Sunday and one death, with 14-day average of 9.3 cases.

Mr Andrews is coming under increasing pressure from business groups to ease restrictions.

Mr Gerner is a leader of the “Unlock Hospitality” group, a collection of hospitality businesses pushing for easing of restrictions. The group has been endorsed by right-of-centre pressure group Change Victoria.

The Victorian Employers Chamber of Commerce and Industry on Sunday said the state had to learn to live with the virus and that businesses that had been shuttered for months had developed plans to enable them to operate safely.

A push to open businesses more quickly across Melbourne was also the focus of full-page advertisements in Sunday newspapers.

The ads, with the heading “Victoria Let’s Be Open!”, called for an alternative to “the message that there’s ‘no choice’ but to follow the harshest lockdown rules in the western world”.

Bill Lang, executive director of lobby group Small Business Australia, helped organise the advert, signed by 92 people including prominent restaurateurs Chris Lucas and Teage Ezard and business leaders Margaret Jackson and David Smorgon.

Mr Lang, who has in the past been a member of the Liberal Party, said the ad was a direct response to the state government’s constant shifting on when businesses could reopen.

He said trust in government had been damaged by the failure of hotel quarantine, and that many Victorians had little faith the Department of Health and Human Services could manage contact tracing properly.

“They just keep saying ‘Trust us’. It’s like we’re on the deck of the Titanic and the captain is saying ‘This thing is unsinkable’.”

It was crucial there was greater transparency on how contact tracing would work, because if a third wave hit Victoria, there might not be appetite for a third lockdown, Mr Lang said. “The strategy with the second wave is working [because] you can’t leave your home,” he said.

Restaurateur Chris Lucas, who runs six venues and employs around 1000 staff, was among several hospitality figures to sign the ad.

He said the social impacts of the lockdown on his employees had been terrible. They are not faring very well. I’ve gone from being a restaurateur to a psychologist – I’m dealing every day with quite significant mental health issues.”

Mr Lucas, whose restaurants have been doing limited takeaway since March, said he and others who signed were not calling for any sudden re-opening. “We’re happy for it to be slow and gradual, but we’re not even talking about re-opening”.

Along with Mr Andrews’ role in keeping the state locked down, the federal government appeared to have abandoned Victoria, Mr Lucas said. “We’re not hearing from the Prime Minister, he’s been very silent.”

Former Liberal Party state treasurer Andrew Abercrombie, also put his name to the ad, and said he was one of its key organisers. “Small business is being absolutely smashed,” Mr Abercrombie said.

He said the government had “failed to understand the principles of the greater good. COVID deaths are measurable and very visible, but the sadness that [many other] Victorians are living through is not nearly as in your face.”

Mr Abercrombie, a millionaire from Toorak, had his own brush with coronavirus in March, hosting a party at his chalet in Aspen, Colorado, where around a dozen people later tested positive (he was not one of them).

Several of his guests were accused of failing to place themselves into self-isolation once they returned to Australia and socialising even after testing positive.

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Premier Daniel Andrews says Melbourne’s 5km rule is still needed


“With the greatest of respect to Catherine Bennett, she’s not the Chief Health Officer,” he said.

“This strategy is working. The numbers are coming down and there are aggregate benefits from each of the measures we’ve taken. That doesn’t mean that … every person from public health across the world would necessarily agree with every decision we’ve made but have you to call these things and that’s what we’ve done.

“Movement means virus. It’s as simple as that. It’s about reducing movement. That’s what stay at home orders are all about. That’s what just about every single one of the measures we’ve put in place – it’s about reducing movement.”

Victoria recorded 10 new cases of COVID-19 on Tuesday and seven more deaths.

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The number of active cases in the state dropped from 359 to 326. Tuesday’s figures bring the state’s rolling 14-day average to 18.9.

That number needs to be five or less, for the five-kilometre rule to be lifted as Melbourne moves towards step three of the government’s roadmap out of lockdown.

With most of Victoria’s new coronavirus cases linked to essential workers, including in aged care and at hospitals, leading infectious diseases physician Professor Peter Collignon said the five-kilometre radius was increasingly futile.

“It’s like measles and german measles,” he said of COVID-19. “We are not going to eliminate it or keep it eliminated. We have to have rules that make biological sense, but that don’t restrict us so badly that we can’t function in any sort of life.”

There are some exceptions to the five-kilometre rule under current restrictions, including those who are providing care, single people visiting a nominated person in another household, intimate partners, and people taking children to school and child care.

Those who gather outdoors to meet people from another nominated household – as was allowed from Monday – must not travel more than five kilometres from their home to meet.

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How are coronavirus case numbers tracking against Melbourne’s step three reopening targets?


Here is how the state’s 14-day average is tracking against Melbourne’s step three reopening target. The blue line on the chart represents the 14-day average, and it has to descend into the green zone under five to reach the step three target.

The goalposts have shifted slightly with the step three target. For step two, the 14-day average used was based on cases in metropolitan Melbourne, but for step three the average encompasses all of Victoria.

Fortunately, the 14-day average in regional Victoria is so low at the moment that it doesn’t bump up the average that much. The 14-day average for metropolitan Melbourne is 20.3 and for regional Victoria 0.6. Add those two numbers together and we get a statewide average of 20.9.

There also has to be fewer than five “mystery” cases statewide over the previous two weeks. These are coronavirus infections that were acquired locally that cannot be traced to an outbreak or specific case, which suggests the virus is circulating in the community. Sometimes these cases are also referred to as community transmission cases.

Here is how the number of mystery cases has been tracking against the step-three reopening target. In this chart we have used a red line (that should make it easier to tell the two graphs apart) to represent the number of mystery cases, and Melbourne’s aim is to propel that line into the green zone at the base of the graph:

The Age will be updating both of these charts on a daily basis and will regularly post them on the coronavirus live blog until Melbourne’s step three targets are met.

As of September 28, there had been 31 mystery cases recorded over the previous fortnight, all of which were recorded in the Melbourne region.

The 14-day tally for mystery cases in regional Victoria dropped to zero on September 18 and has stayed there since. This essentially means that all 41 new coronavirus cases recorded in regional Victoria this month could be traced back to an existing cluster or that the people who tested positive there were close contacts of an existing case.

(There is one slightly confusing little disclaimer for mystery cases, which is worth briefly explaining. The number that was updated on Monday morning by the Health Department is 31 mystery cases, which includes people who tested positive for COVID-19 between Saturday, September 12, and Friday, September 25. There is a slight lag there, because it typically takes health authorities a few days to investigate the infection source. Once the numbers come down even further, that lag will likely start to disappear.)

Once the 14-day average has been driven below five and community transmission has in effect been wiped out, Melbourne can then move to step three. Here’s how life would change once step three has been climbed:

The final step for both metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria is for there to be no new coronavirus cases recorded statewide over the previous two weeks. This is what the final step entails:

How Melbourne and regional Victoria reached their previous targets:

These graphs have been appearing regularly on The Age website and our daily coronavirus blog over the past few weeks. Now that Melbourne and regional Victoria have met their immediate targets they have been retired, but it’s worth including them one final time as their victory lap.

When the state’s road map for reopening was announced on September 6, the step two target set for metropolitan Melbourne was to drive the 14-day average down to somewhere between 30-50 by September 28.

Back then the 14-day average for metropolitan Melbourne was sitting at 90.4; it’s currently 20.3, and managed to the state government’s target.

The target set for Monday was 30-50 cases, and as you can see from this graph, Melbourne has more than met that goal:

Meanwhile, regional Victoria reached its step three target of a 14-day average below five and virtually no community transmission on September 16:

When was the 14-day average for Victoria last below five?

Victoria’s 14-day average for new coronavirus cases rose above five for the first time on March 18, and since then there have been only six days when it has dropped below that threshold:

Back on March 18, the infection rate was increasing. There were 27 new cases confirmed statewide, bringing the tally up to 121 cases in total recorded in Victoria.

After the first wave started to subside, there was a six-day window when the state’s 14-day average dropped below five again, between April 28 and May 3. It picked up again largely as a result of the Cedar Meats outbreak in Melbourne’s west, which ended up being connected to more than 100 cases.

It got agonisingly close to dropping under five during the middle of June, just before the second wave took off.

But in some ways, this graph likely sets the bar too high for the 14-day average, because until mid-July a sizeable proportion of cases were from returned travellers. It is not possible to get a breakdown from publicly-available Health Department data that disentangles new overseas-acquired and locally-acquired cases on a day-to-day basis.

Victoria’s 14-day average is currently at 20.9. The last time it was this low was on June 27, when case numbers were rising, and within a week, 10 Melbourne postcodes were sent back into lockdown.


Note: I have opted to use a linear y-axis on the graphs rather than a logarithmic one. A logarithmic scale is indeed better for showing exponential growth and decay, but can confuse readers who are used to reading graphs with a linear scale.

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AFL investigates potential coronavirus rules breach involving Melbourne’s Harley Bennell



The Melbourne Football Club says it is investigating a potential breach of the AFL’s COVID-19 protocols involving player Harley Bennell.

In a statement, the club said it had notified the AFL, which was investigating the matter.

“Whilst the club and the AFL are in the process of establishing the facts, Harley will remain in an off-site isolation location, to remove any possibility of contaminating the Twin Waters high performance hub,” the club’s statement said.

“As the matter is being investigated, the club is not in a position to comment further.”

The league’s Victorian teams are based in Queensland hubs to enable the competition to continue during the pandemic, but they must abide by a set of COVID-19 protocols to reduce the risk of virus transmission.

A number of players and clubs have been penalised for breaches of those protocols since the arrangement was struck, including four teams which recieved large fines at the end of July.



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