Melbourne will remain in lockdown for another week but restrictions in regional Victoria will ease from midnight on Thursday as the Victorian government warns case numbers will “explode” without further tough measures.
The Victorian acting premier, James Merlino, announced the extension of the lockdown on Wednesday. It came as the Victorian government put another proposal to the federal government to reinstate jobkeeper-style payments to Victorian workers for the duration of the lockdown – a proposal Merlino says the state will take to national cabinet if the federal treasurer, Victorian-based Josh Frydenberg, does not accede.
Merlino announced a further $209m in support for Victorian businesses on top of $250m announced on Sunday. Melbourne businesses will be able to apply for grants of up to $5,000 – double the $2,500 offered for just one week of lockdown.
“The [state] treasurer is calling, has been calling Josh Frydenberg this morning to put that request, and I will be speaking to the prime minister later today and I do hope that the commonwealth will swiftly confirm that they will step up and provide that support,” Merlino said. “If they do not, I will be raising this directly at national cabinet on Friday.”
Frydenberg has signalled since Sunday he was monitoring the situation in Victoria. The Morrison government has been reluctant to step in because it is wary about providing incentives that encourage statewide lockdowns.
But the federal government hasn’t ruled out providing additional support configured on a national basis. Scott Morrison was due to speak with Merlino on Wednesday night and there was a separate conversation between Frydenberg and the Victorian treasurer Tim Pallas during the afternoon.
Frydenberg told reporters in Canberra that he and Pallas had a “constructive” relationship despite his state counterpart’s criticism of him in recent days “which we all have a sense of humour about”.
He said the jobkeeper payment had ended and the federal government would approach any additional support it “on a national basis”.
“It is not about Victoria, or individual cases, it is about on a national basis, and we will stick to our principles, namely, our approaches will continue to be national, sustainable,” Frydenberg said.
The seven-day lockdown was due to lift at midnight on Thursday, but will instead be extended for people living in Melbourne until midnight on 10 June. In regional Victoria, the lockdown will lift this Thursday, with limits placed on gatherings and restaurant capacity and a new requirement for business owners to check the identification of patrons to make sure they have not travelled from Melbourne.
“We have also seen previous examples of people who left Melbourne, broke the rules and took the virus with them,” the acting premier said. “We don’t want to see that happen again.”
Merlino told reporters authorities had “no choice” but to extend the lockdown in Melbourne.
“If we let this thing run its course, it will explode,” he said. “We’ve got to run this to ground because if we don’t, people will die.”
The rules will be eased slightly to allow people to travel 10km for essential shopping or their daily two hours of exercise, to allow students in years 11 and 12 to return to school, and to allow some outdoor work activities, such as landscaping and installing solar panels, to operate.
“At the end of another seven days, we do expect to be in a position to carefully ease restrictions in Melbourne, but there will continue to be differences between the settings in Melbourne compared to regional Victoria,” Merlino said.
“So I want to be upfront with people that even if all goes well, we won’t be able to have people from Melbourne travelling to regional Victoria during the Queen’s birthday long weekend. The risk of exporting this virus is just too high.”
Another resident at the Arcare Maidstone nursing home has tested positive for Covid-19, the facility confirmed on Wednesday afternoon.
In an email to the families of residents, the facility said the positive case would be transported to hospital. They are the second resident to test positive at the centre in Melbourne’s west. Two workers also have Covid.
“We are saddened to report that we have one additional client who has tested positive. This client will be transferred to hospital for public health reasons,” the Arcare chief executive, Colin Singh, said.
The virus appears to have already spread to some regional areas – there have been detections of the virus in wastewater in Bendigo and on the Mornington Peninsula and exposure sites listed overnight on Tuesday include busy petrol stations on the Hume Freeway.
Victoria’s chief health officer, Prof Brett Sutton, said 10% of the cases connected to the new outbreak have been the result of casual contacts, prompting health authorities to consider reclassifying tier two and three exposure sites to require people at those places to isolate.
Sutton said he could not guarantee the lockdown would not be extended beyond next Thursday, saying it would depend on case numbers and also whether those new cases were in isolation or had caught the virus in a casual contact setting.
“We can’t have one or two cases out there and open back up to the kind of settings we had before,” he said. “That’s what led one case from South Australia to lead to 60 cases and thousands of primary close contacts within a month.”
There were six new cases reported on Wednesday: a family of four from Victoria who tested positive after travelling to Jervis Bay in New South Wales; a close contact of the Stratton Finance case who had been in isolation for the whole infectious period; and a person who was dining at the Brighton Beach Hotel, an outdoor dining venue, at the same time as a positive case.
Health authorities are still trying to determine which of the Jervis Bay family first caught the virus – and where they caught it. There is no clear crossover with any exposure sites, Sutton said.
There are currently 5,200 people in Victoria in isolation as close contacts of known cases, of which 78% have returned a negative result.
Meanwhile, South Australia’s chief public health officer defended the decision to allow Collingwood into the state for the weekend’s AFL clash against the Adelaide Crows.
Prof Nicola Spurrier described the exemption as a “special situation” and said there was a “negligible risk” because the team was already quarantining at home and would have multiple tests as part of the process.