Victoria recorded one new case of COVID-19 on Monday, another fantastic result that suggests the coronavirus outbreak there is now being well controlled. Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday the state was “well placed this weekend to be able to make very significant announcements about a further step to opening”.
It’s worth acknowledging what a fantastic job everyone has done in Victoria. Huge sacrifices have been made, people have done the hard yards in difficult circumstances, and now it’s time to step our way out.
Here are answers to common questions about emerging from lockdown and how to make sure you’re doing it safely.
When and how should the Victoria-NSW border reopen?
The Sydney Morning Herald reports the NSW-Victoria border could reopen within a month (and Andrews said he would like to see NSW reopen to regional Victoria as early as this week).
The Herald quoted NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian saying:
We are very keen to see what happens in Victoria once further restrictions are eased because that’s the real test […] And if Victoria demonstrates that they’ve […] upped their contact-tracing capacity, that they’re able to demonstrate they’re not going to have uncontrolled outbreaks while they’re easing restrictions, well that will give us confidence to open the borders.
So there’s a bit of guesswork here but if you match her comments up with the current roadmap to ease restrictions, it sounds like there’s a chance the border could be reopening some time in the first half of November.
There will be a period of watching closely how well Victoria does as restrictions ease; this will be the real test of where Victoria is at in terms of suppressing transmission.
But once you have confirmation NSW and Victoria are pretty much tracking the same way, there’s no reason to keep the border closed. There are plenty of good economic and social reasons to have it open.
Even though the numbers look fairly similar between Victoria and NSW, the shape of the two outbreaks has been and remains slightly different. In NSW, most new cases are from overseas arrivals and the number of mystery cases is lower, as shown in this excellent breakdown published by the Sydney Morning Herald and The Age.
So, quite reasonably, there’s a bit of caution about letting Victorians into NSW; there’s more uncertainty around exactly where Victoria sits in terms of controlling the spread of the virus. But as long as things continue to go well in Victoria as it opens up, NSW can have greater confidence it’s safe to reopen the border.
How should the opening of the border be managed? Well, I don’t think you can attempt a staged opening of a border. The whole point of a border reopening is to allow free movement between the two states. Either you wait until you’re confident and then open the border, or you don’t do it at all. You can’t half open it.
Is fishing allowed in Victoria?
For Melburnians, the answer is basically yes, assuming there’s a fishing spot within your 25km radius and you’re sensible about it. As with all activities, it’s important to stick to the restriction changes announced this week and follow hygiene and distancing rules. (Use this ABC tool to find out what’s within 25km of your Melbourne home.)
For regional Victorians, you can go fishing as long as you’re being COVID-safe and following the restrictions (outlined in the Instagram post embedded above).
The Victorian Fishing Authority says:
When fishing or boating you must keep a 1.5m distance from other participants, wear a fitted face covering at all times (except for children under 12 or where an exemption applies), practice good hygiene and not share equipment.
I’m not much of a fisherman myself but, as an epidemiologist, I think fishing sounds like a lovely, low-risk, relaxing outdoor activity — if you don’t mind dealing with the fish.
When can Melbourne people travel to regional Victoria?
According to the Department of Health and Human Services, for Melburnians:
Travel to regional Victoria is still only allowed for permitted purposes even if this is within 25km. This means you cannot travel into regional Victoria for exercise or recreation.
This is the “ring of steel” you have heard so much about, the aim of which is to protect regional Victoria from the virus in metropolitan Melbourne.
The government’s Roadmap for reopening currently says when there have been zero new cases in the community for more than 14 days, the state can move to the roadmap’s final step. Then, travel within Victoria will be allowed (but you can’t enter any restricted area).
Can regional Victorians visit Melbourne?
According to the third step in the roadmap, regional Victorians:
…must not travel into metropolitan Melbourne under current restrictions, except to buy necessary goods and services, for care and compassionate reasons or permitted work or education. While in metropolitan Melbourne you must comply with the metropolitan Melbourne restrictions.
You can travel through metropolitan Melbourne on your way to a holiday in regional Victoria but shouldn’t stop unless it is for one of the three permitted reasons.
Being smart about it
As the pendulum shifts away from the government telling us what we can do, to us making our own decisions, it’s important to be COVID-safe in the way we navigate this new normal.
That means limiting your contact with people, wearing a mask, practising social distancing and hand hygiene, staying home when sick, and getting tested if you have symptoms.