The bulk of Victoria’s remaining COVID-19 restrictions will lift at 11.59pm Thursday night, ending density limits for the state’s hard-hit entertainment and hospitality sector, and removing the most restrictive quarantine requirements for those deemed close contacts of positive cases.
In a Thursday morning announcement, Premier Daniel Andrews said the state government expects 90% of those aged 12 and over to be vaccinated by Saturday or Sunday.
With the vast majority of the state’s population immunised against the virus, Andrews said it was appropriate to wind back some of the state’s lingering restrictions.
The change is “absolutely about getting to as normal a situation as possible, that normality that we have all craved,” Andrews told reporters in Melbourne.
Previously flagged changes to density limits will now come into effect from midnight, meaning restaurants, bars, cafés, music venues, and nightclubs will be permitted to welcome as many guests as their ordinary licenses allow.
In a boon for major cultural and sporting occasions, events with fewer than 30,000 fully vaccinated guests will be permitted without any special approval, while events with more than 30,000 patrons will need to apply for one-off government approvals.
The changes mean events like the Boxing Day Test cricket match and the Australian Open tennis tournament will be free to operate at full capacity.
Weddings and funerals will be free of capacity limits for fully vaccinated attendees, but caps of 50 people, density limits of one person per four square metres, and mask mandates will remain in place for services where vaccination status goes unchecked.
And in a significant update for hospitality and essential retail workers, most people who find themselves exposed to a positive COVID-19 case will no longer be required to undergo extensive self-isolation.
Instead, they will simply need to isolate until they return a negative COVID-19 test result, using a regular PCR COVID-19 test.
The changes will also see masks abandoned in many private and public settings, including offices.
However, masks will linger for servers in hospitality venues, and for visitors and select workers at healthcare facilities.
Masks will remain a must for public transport, taxis, and rideshare trips. Students in Years 3 to Year 6 will need to keep their masks on, along with primary school staff and visitors.
Separately, masks will remain mandatory in retail venues until 15 December, unless the public health situation deteriorates.
“High risk” work settings, like corrections facilities and meat processing plants, will remain as mask-only sites.
The state government will also stop publishing exposure sites online, and will instead use the Service Victoria app to note higher-risk venues where positive cases have been detected.
The changes mark a positive development for Victorian businesses and residents yet to recover from the deep emotional and economic scarring of the past two years.
The announcement also gives the Andrews government some encouraging news, as it attempts to salvage a controversial bill it says will streamline COVID-19 restrictions in the months to come.
Victoria today recorded 1,007 new cases of COVID-19 in the community and 12 deaths caused by the virus. Of more than 13,000 active cases, 337 are currently hospitalised.