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Victoria close to a ‘really big step’ towards COVID normal, Andrews says

Premier Daniel Andrews says Victoria is “so close” to being able to take a “really big step” towards COVID-normal, as the state records its lowest daily case increase in more than three months.

Key points:

  • Melbourne’s 14-day rolling average has dropped to 20.3 from 22.1 yesterday
  • The next restrictions step could occur as soon as October 19 if public health advice allows
  • Authorities have urged Victorians to keep getting tested for COVID-19 so levels can be accurately monitored

Five new cases were recorded on Monday, the state’s lowest daily case increase since June 12, when four cases were recorded.

The state has also recorded three more deaths linked to aged care outbreaks: a man in his 60s, a woman in her 80s and a man in his 90s.

Melbourne’s 14-day daily new case average has dropped to 20.3 from 22.1, while regional Victoria’s 14-day average remains at 0.6.

Mr Andrews said the state was “so, so close” to defeating the second wave.

“We are so close to being able to take a really big step, a big step towards that COVID-normal,” he said.

“What’s incredibly important, and I think every Victorian knows this … is that everyone keeps following the rules, keeps doing the right thing.”

Catch up on the main COVID-19 news from September 28 with our coronavirus blog.

Authorities aim to test one in 40 Victorians each fortnight

The five cases were detected among 6,807 tests, which Mr Andrews said was still a reasonably “robust” number of tests to gauge levels of coronavirus in the community.

But he stressed the state could be held back from taking further steps to ease restrictions if not enough symptomatic Victorians came forward to be tested.

Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) coronavirus testing head Jeroen Weimar said over the past fortnight, 164,000 Victorians had come forward to be tested.

“That’s the equivalent of one in 40 of all of our citizens coming forward to get tested over that two-week period,” he said.

Mr Weimar said for every positive case detected in metropolitan Melbourne over the past fortnight, 387 tests came back negative.

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In regional Victoria, 2,500 negative tests were returned for every positive case detected during the same period.

“In order for us to sustain these numbers … in order to be confident that we’re beating this thing, we need to sustain our high testing levels,” he said.

“We need to ensure that at least one in 40 Victorians come forward to get tested and we carry on in that way.”

Concerns about testing in regional Victoria as high-risk suburbs targeted

The State Government has expanded its wastewater testing operations in regional Victoria to detect any traces of coronavirus.

New wastewater testing sites have been set up at Mildura and Swan Hill in the state’s north-west, and at Wangaratta, Wodonga and Benalla in the north-east.

Wastewater testing will also begin in Castlemaine this week.

Mr Weimar said those sites would help authorities get a sense of people moving around the community with coronavirus.

“But it’s a belt and braces approach,” he said.

“We cannot rely upon this to find the coronavirus, but it will help to tell us where in particular we need to look and search more closely.”

Two medical workers in PPE test two drivers for COVD-19.

Two medical workers in PPE test two drivers for COVD-19.

Authorities conducted extra testing in Casey in response to an outbreak in Hallam.(ABC News)

In Melbourne, the State Government has sent incident management teams to the Hobsons Bay, Casey and Dandenong local government areas in an attempt to increase testing in high-risk areas.

Rideshare and food delivery drivers are being encouraged to get tested, regardless of symptoms.

Public health advice, not dates, to determine next reopening steps

It comes as Melbourne moves to the second step of Victoria’s roadmap out of lockdown.

All primary school students will resume classroom learning in two weeks, permits are no longer required for childcare, and up to five people from two different households can gather outside.

In Melbourne? Here’s what you can and can’t do under step two of the roadmap out of restrictions.

Mr Andrews said businesses struggling to navigate the new restrictions could call Business Victoria on 13 22 15 for help clarifying how the restrictions would affect them.

Regional Victoria moved to the third step of the roadmap on September 16.

Future steps of lifting restrictions will now be guided by public health advice and case numbers, without needing to wait for certain dates on the calendar.

A blue mask with a red heart and 'MELB' printed on it is attached to a tree on the side of the footpath at Southbank, Melbourne.

A blue mask with a red heart and 'MELB' printed on it is attached to a tree on the side of the footpath at Southbank, Melbourne.

Melbourne is now in step two of the restrictions roadmap.(ABC News: Billy Draper)

Under the changes, the third step in Melbourne could occur as soon as October 19, rather than October 26 as initially planned.

Mr Andrews said if case numbers continued to fall and testing rates remained at a robust level, the restrictions around four reasons to leave your home could be removed.

But he said there may still need to be some limits around distance travelled.

“How far you can go, I’m not quite sure where we’re going to land on that. We will get the least restrictive set of arrangements that don’t compromise safety or don’t run the high risk of us going backwards,” he said.

The trigger points of Victoria recording a 14-day new cases average below five and fewer than five cases with an unknown source over two weeks still apply.

In Melbourne, there were 31 “mystery” cases recorded in the latest 14-day reporting period.

Regional Victoria’s tally has been sitting at zero for more than one week.

Mandatory masks preferable to ‘people needing machines to breathe’

After a two-week grace period Victorians will be required to wear a fitted face mask, rather than makeshift alternatives like bandanas and scarves.

Mr Andrews said as case numbers declined, more people would be moving around and coming into contact with each other, which is why the Government was tightening the rules around masks at a time when other restrictions were easing.

In response to questions about calls to scrap masks in regional Victoria, Mr Andrews said they provided large benefits for a low cost.

“Compared to everyone being locked in their homes and people needing machines to breathe? I reckon I can deal with foggy glasses. I reckon you can too,” he said.

“I think they [masks] play a really important part. There will come a time when they’re not needed and when that time comes, then people won’t have to wear them.”

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