Slow and steady easing gets epidemiologists’ stamp of approval

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Leading epidemiologists have praised the Andrews government for the slow and steady approach to guiding Victoria out of the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic, saying the latest easing of restrictions strikes the right balance.

Melburnians are now allowed to visit each other in their homes, marking another step on the road to economic and social recovery following 15 long weeks of lockdown.

Rob Wallace with his five children and the whiteboard they use to organise their lives.Credit:Penny Stephens

"What we, all of us as Victorians, have built is a precious thing but it is fragile," Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday.

"We want everyone to be vigilant, and understand that … we can't take it for granted."

Victoria recorded no new cases and no deaths for the second day in a row on Tuesday, a milestone Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton dubbed a "double doughnut day".

The last time Victoria notched up two consecutive days with no new coronavirus cases was on March 5 and March 6, when there were 10 confirmed cases in total, all of them returned international travellers.

Premier Daniel Andrews, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton and Health Minister Martin Foley arrive at Treasury Theatre on Tuesday.Credit: Luis Enrique Ascui

"Arguably your home is the most dangerous place for the spread of this virus," Mr Andrews said.

"I know that jars with people, may not sound right but when you think about it, that's where people let their guard down."

The 25-kilometre limit on travel and the "ring of steel" between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria will remain until at least November 8, when the government is expected to make further announcements.

Asked if Victoria had required such a heavy-handed lockdown to suppress its second wave, Professor Sutton said there had been "no choice".

The rules on visiting

  • Who can visit? From midnight tonight, two adults from the same household and their dependents can visit another Melbourne household. Dependents include young children – Premier Daniel Andrews said his 13-year-old son Joseph would be a dependent but not his 16-year-old daughter Grace – or old or infirm relatives who live under the same roof.
  • How many visits a day? Just the one. If you go to someone’s house for lunch, or someone pays you a visit, you can’t then go to someone else’s home for dinner. Mr Andrews said just “one visiting event” a day was allowed.
  • Different visitors on different days? Yes, as long as you comply with the “one visiting event” a day rule.
  • Adult visitors from different households? Nope. The rules are designed to only allow two separate households to come into contact each day.
  • What about older kids? Get a whiteboard and work out a roster. If your teenager visits a friend at home, that’s your household’s visit done for the day. As the Premier put it: “Grace goes and visits a friend. Grace comes home, we might as well all have gone and visited because Grace could be bringing the virus back into our house. That’s the basic logic to it.”
  • What if I live in a share house? The same logic applies. If one housemate visits another household for lunch, that’s the household’s visits for the day. But up to 10 people from multiple households can still meet up outdoors. Or you could go to the pub
  • How far can I travel to pay a visit? In metropolitan Melbourne you must stick to the 25-kilometre travel limit, which is also in place until November 9.
  • What else? The Premier wants everyone to keep a track of who’s visited. And wear a mask. “If there is an issue, days later, it’s always preferable to be able to simply search and have an accurate picture of who came and visited you.” And he said everyone should “wear masks whenever they can”.
  • Why are the rules so strict? The home is “the most dangerous environment for the spread of this virus,” Mr Andrews said.
  • What about enforcement? “We’re not going to have police knocking on every door, every day,” the Premier said. “But we just ask people to use some common sense because that’s what’s got us here.”

He cited the second wave in South Korea, which did not clamp down as hard but was now struck at dozens of daily cases.

"If we had plateaued at dozens of cases and not gotten to the point where we've gotten to today, then there's no opening with South Australia, no opening with NSW," Professor Sutton said.

The Burnet Institute's Mike Toole, who at the end of the first wave of the pandemic raised concerns about the speed at which restrictions were lifted, said he was buoyed by the government's current cautious approach.

He said he expected restrictions on household gatherings to ease some more but warned against allowing 20 people to meet at homes, as was allowed after the first wave.

"The hotel quarantine leak alone didn't start the second wave," Professor Toole said. "It was fuelled by the easing of restrictions … there were large family gatherings and we don't want that this time.

"I would expect the government to ease restrictions gradually, maybe from two to five to 10, but I wouldn't like it to get to 20 again."

The institute's chief executive, Brendan Crabb, also welcomed the government's cautious attitude to guiding the state out of coronavirus restrictions, saying authorities were "overconfident" at the end of the first wave.

"We've got an improved system, we're easing cautiously with an eye on getting relevant businesses up and running first and then getting some level of social interaction … but it's a much more wide-eyed and not withstanding 'get on the beers', a sober view," Professor Crabb said.

"No one is under any illusion that we're a bit of bad luck and bad judgment away from trouble.

"By the same token we have to live, we have to get our society going, so that's a really nuanced and tricky balance and I think that's being wrestled really well at the moment."

Tuesday's announcement came as a relief for Northcote father Rob Wallace and his family of seven, who are going to have to use a whiteboard to manage their comings and goings and ensure all of the family get a visit or a visitor.

"I totally get that you can’t just have a free for all," he said. "It’s just about thinking ‘what can we do? We can do this', and that’s good because last week we couldn’t do that."

However, Rachel Bensimon from East Melbourne – who also lives with six other people – said she was frustrated the rules limited the visits to two adults and their dependents,

"It just seems so arbitrary," Ms Bensimon said. "Why are we picking and choosing parts of the family?"

"My 13-year-old, who has been home for months secluded in his room, again I should tell him, 'actually you can’t come with us to visit your grandparents, we’re just going to take the younger ones.'"

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