Authorities have praised Victorians for saving hundreds of lives and potentially preventing tens of thousands of COVID-19 cases, ahead of the lifting of Melbourne’s long-running sixth lockdown.
Melbourne will emerge from lockdown at 11.59pm on Thursday, five days earlier than previously planned after hitting its 70 per cent full vaccination target.
The northwest town of Mildura will also be released from lockdown a day early.
Acting Chief Health Officer Ben Cowie, who signed the stay-at-home orders on August 5, said the lockdown had bought the state time to boost vaccination rates.
“The numbers of infections could be in the tens of thousands if not for the hard work of all Victorians,” he told reporters.
“We have prevented many thousands of people from ending up in hospital and hundreds of deaths already.”
When stay-at-home orders lift, Melbourne residents will have spent 77 full days in their current lockdown, and a world record 263 total days locked down since the beginning of the pandemic.
Deputy Premier James Merlino said Victorians had earned their freedoms.
“In the coming days and weeks, I hope everyone enjoys those first reunions with their families, the first football, netball, cricket training with the kids, the first drink at the pub,” he said.
Under new rules for the city, people will be able to leave their homes for any reason and travel anywhere within metropolitan Melbourne.
The curfew will be scrapped, home gatherings of up to 10 will be allowed, and hairdressers and hospitality businesses will reopen for the fully vaccinated.
However, in a last-minute change to reopening plans, all staff in businesses given the green light to operate to fully vaccinated Victorians must also be doubled-dosed to return to work.
Following the hospitality sector voicing confusion over mandate rules, the Department of Health has clarified the reopening of businesses such as pubs and restaurants to fully vaccinated attendees includes workers as well as patrons.
“The option of increased capacity limits will only apply if everyone present is fully vaccinated (or has a valid medical exemption),” a new health direction reads.
“This means if your staff are not fully vaccinated, you may not be able to open or to apply the eased capacity limits offered in the roadmap.”
Victoria has now notched more than 1000 COVID-related deaths over the pandemic, with the grim milestone coinciding with lockdown lifting.
Another 12 deaths and 2232 locally acquired cases were recorded on Thursday.
The fatalities bring the toll from the latest outbreak to 187, with 1005 having died since the pandemic began.
Thursday’s daily local case number is the state’s second highest of the pandemic and breaks a five-day streak of fewer than 2000 infections.