Around 250,000 Victorians will be stood down from their jobs from Thursday, with Melbourne now under stage four lockdown restrictions that will see most retail stores close, the premier Daniel Andrews announced.
“This is a uniquely Australian and Victorian approach,” he said on Monday. “If you look at what New Zealand did, they went a fair bit further than this. Look, I’m not here to run a commentary on what other countries or other states have done. We’ve designed something that we think will work here in Victoria.”
Andrews said supermarkets, grocery stores, bottle shops, pharmacies, petrol stations, banks, news agencies, post offices, and frontline health responders would continue as normal. But from midnight Wednesday, retail stores will close aside from click and collect orders, Andrews said.
“You will no longer be able to go into a Bunnings store but you will be able to collect goods without making contact with anybody,” he said. “It’s critically important to have many, many people at home rather than at work and moving to and from work each and every day.” Hardware stores can remain open onsite, but for tradespeople only.
Some businesses, including meatworks, would be scaled back rather than closed, Andrews added. “We know that meatworks are a really significant challenge for us,” he said. “Whether it be lamb, poultry or beef, they will move to two-thirds production. And those workplaces will look very different. There will be some of the most stringent safety protocols that have ever been put in place in any industrial setting.”
Horse racing and greyhound racing can continue. Most other businesses will be forced to close – including restaurants, cafes, beauty parlours, and gyms – and those would be eligible for a $5,000 grant, Andrews said. Businesses in the Mitchell Shire and metropolitan Melbourne who were already eligible for the grant could access a further $5,000 grant, Andrews said, given those areas had been under restrictions longer.
Andrews said while about 500,000 Victorians are already working from home and a further 250,000 had been stood down already, the retail and other business closures to take effect from Wednesday at midnight would see a further 250,000 people stood down from work. He said there would be announcements from the federal government to support those workers.
The prime minister, Scott Morrison, announced on Monday evening that Victorians with the virus who have no more sick leave available will be eligible for a $1,500 pandemic leave payment for the fortnight they are required to isolate.
“People can actually access the payment multiple times if, unfortunately, they’re in a position where they have to self-isolate as a direct requirement on multiple times,” he said.
Victoria would take “years to recover from” the pandemic, Andrews said. “There’s simply no doubt about that.”
Warehousing and distribution centres in Melbourne will be limited to no more than two-thirds the normal workforce allowed onsite at any one time. The construction sector will also move to “pilot light” levels, with no more than 25% of the normal workforce allowed on major sites. Small-scale construction will be limited to a maximum of five people onsite.
There were 13 more Covid-19 deaths and 429 new cases of the virus identified in the state since Sunday. Meanwhile 416 Victorians are in hospital along with 35 in intensive care, with the state’s death toll now at 136. There are 1,089 active cases in aged care, and 77 deaths have been linked to aged care.
The number of deaths and cases, including growing numbers of the virus in regional Victoria, prompted Andrews to announce a stage four lockdown on Metropolitan Melbourne on Sunday, which includes a curfew from between 8pm and 5am, and restrictions preventing most people travelling beyond 5km of their home for essential services. Stage three restrictions were announced for regional Victoria.
Among the news cases announced on Monday were clusters linked with the Qantas Freight facility, the Northern Hospital intensive care unit, and the Melbourne United basketball club. The chief health officer Brett Sutton said while the former stage three restrictions in metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire had made a difference, they only “flattened the curve to a point where we got to a plateau” of between 400-500 cases per day.
“I think, over the next 10-14 days, we should see the effects of these restrictions show in the numbers,” Sutton said.
Andrews said despite reductions in meatworks operations and plans from supermarkets to place limits on certain items in coming days, people did not need to rush out and panic buy.
“You may not be able to buy every single item that you want in the quantities you normally would, but people will have everything they need,” he said. “And there’ll be more to go around if people buy what they need when they need it rather than going and buying four trolleys worth of groceries and enough chicken or beef to last you until Christmas. That’s not necessary. And that’s why I think you’ll find that a number of our supermarkets will add to the restrictions they’ve already put in place, and I fully support them doing that.”
All open businesses and services will have until 11.59pm on Friday 7 August to enact a Covidsafe plan focused on safety, prevention and response in the event that the virus is linked to the workplace. Workplaces that are continuing to operate will also have additional requirements including extra PPE, staggering shifts, staggering breaks, health declarations and more support for sick workers to ensure they stay home.
Workers in abattoirs will be kitted out in full PPE – gowns, masks and shields – similar to what a nurse would wear. They will also be subject to routine testing.