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Victoria has recorded 113 new infections on Thursday.
The health department also confirmed 15 more deaths, taking the state’s death toll to 591.
Premier Daniel Andrews is set to provide an update at 10.15am.
It comes as an infectious disease expert said he doesn’t believe trying to eliminate coronavirus is a sustainable strategy as he questioned whether stage four lockdown are worth the “extra pain”.
Infectious Diseases Physician and Microbiologist Peter Collignon said it’s difficult to know “how much extra” stage four did compared to stage three restrictions.
“Stage four must have some extra benefits because it’s restricting people even more but how much extra benefit you get for the extra pain – that we haven’t worked out,” the ANU professor told 3AW.
“If you look around the world or even in Australia, the success of where you are now isn’t necessarily related to how strong your lockdowns are.”
Dr Collignon said that Victoria should look to other states, particularly NSW, as a model when it comes to easing restrictions.
He added that until there is a vaccine developed that’s 90 percent effective, elimination is unlikely.
“The elimination strategy I don’t think is sustainable over one or two years and I think you can achieve the same result without such harsh restrictions – look at Perth, look at Adelaide who achieved it without actually having stage three or four lockdowns,” he said.
“Even if we get a vaccine that’s 50 percent effective, that may save lives but it won’t stop the virus from circulating.
“I think physical distancing, hand hygiene, keeping away from work when you’re sick and keeping away from your family when you’re sick, that’s going to be with us for two years.”
REVEALED: THE FIRST RESTRICTIONS TO BE EASED
Top-secret leaked state government documents have revealed Melbourne’s first steps out of tough stage four restrictions.
From the curfew and exercise, to face-to-face learning and visiting family, here’s what is changing and when.
VICTORIA HARDEST HIT BY RECESSION
Australia’s world-beating run of economic growth is over, with the worst three months on record plunging the nation into the deepest recession since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
The national economy shrank by a whopping 7 per cent between April and June as lockdown measures sparked a record crash in household spending.
Victoria was hit hardest by the collapse in consumption and the disastrous figures will only get worse, with Melbourne’s stage four lockdown delivering a $12bn blow in the September quarter while other states recover.
Treasurer Josh Frydenberg, who said the recession was “like nothing we have ever experienced”, said the federal government was considering fast-tracking income-tax cuts to deliver an economic shot in the arm.
“The road ahead will be long. The road ahead will be hard. The road ahead will be bumpy,” the Treasurer said.
“There is hope. And there is a road out.”
The 12.1 per cent slump in household spending accounted for 95 per cent of the economic hit, with families instead saving at the highest level since 1974.
Discretionary spending was down 25 per cent as interstate travel was restricted and pubs, cafes and restaurants were only allowed to sell takeaway meals. But spending on alcohol and household furnishings and equipment soared as Australians spent weeks in lockdown.
The government spent $31bn on JobKeeper payments to keep the economy afloat.
Mr Frydenberg said without the government’s support measures, the economy was predicted to shrink by more than 20 per cent. Some 700,000 jobs had been saved.
He said Australia remained in a stronger position than other countries, but with continuing restrictions in Victoria, Treasury expected another slight economic contraction in the September quarter.
The federal budget, due next month, is expected to contain further measures to kickstart the recovery.
The Prime Minister pointed to infrastructure and energy projects as a key focus. “As harsh and as severe and heavy as this blow is on Australia today, we know that as a government we have acted to seek to cushion that blow as much as we can. Australia will recover and Australia will grow again, and the jobs will come back,” Scott Morrison said.
Australian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief James Pearson said tax cuts had to be brought forward.
“The shape of the recovery will ultimately depend on the ability and willingness of households and businesses to spend,” he said.
Business Council of Australia chief Jennifer Westacott agreed that with business investment “in free fall”, the government had to deliver serious tax and regulation reforms.
Opposition treasury spokesman Jim Chalmers accused the government of failing to deliver “a proper jobs plan”, threatening the economic recovery.
“In the middle of this jobs crisis, Scott Morrison and Josh Frydenberg have a plan to wind back JobKeeper, cut wages, cut super, freeze the pension, point the finger and shift the blame — but no plan for jobs,” he said.
Australian Council of Trade Unions president Michele O’Neil said: “These are the worst economic figures ever recorded, we are in an unprecedented economic and public health crisis, and yet the Morrison government has no plan for a way out.”
AGED CARE SECTOR AT CORE OF CASE RISE
Aged-care outbreaks are a major driver of Victoria’s stubborn new coronavirus cases, with infections in hot spot suburbs often linked to active cases in the sector.
But Victorian Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said on Wednesday there were positive signs given no new clusters had been recorded.
The state on Wednesday recorded 90 new cases of the virus and six deaths — all linked to aged care.
Prof Sutton said the latest numbers were a welcome result, as infection figures often spiked in the middle of the week when more test results were received.
He said Melbourne’s northwest and parts of the southeast were still virus hot spots, with the municipalities of Dandenong and Casey of concern.
“Often in those postcode hot spots its because of the active cases in aged care,” he said.
“But there’s also community cases that are often linked to workplaces and their households. (Most transmission) is still aged care, healthcare, high-risk workplaces, other workplaces and then close contacts of known cases.
“We’re still seeing around 15 per cent as a proportion of our daily totals as mystery cases … we’re getting to single figures.”
Prof Sutton said the situation was improving as infections in high-risk areas started to plateau.
“We are not seeing new outbreaks in aged care,” he said.
“The number of active cases in aged care has been coming down by 100 or so each day.”
Nearly 14,000 Victorians were tested on Tuesday — still well below the state’s daily average of about 20,000.
Daniel Andrews appealed for all Victorians with symptoms to get tested.
“It is essential to us defeating this second wave,” the Premier said.
In regional Victoria, Greater Geelong has 40 active cases — a fall of 10 — and no new cases. Bendigo has eight active cases and Ballarat has five.
Aged care has 1177 active cases, with 97 active outbreaks.
In disability facility settings, there are 35 active cases, with 23 cases among staff members and 12 cases among residents.
– Kieran Rooney
DEVIL IN DETAIL FOR STATE OF EMERGENCY DEAL
The Andrews Government is under pressure to reveal if it struck a secret deal with the Greens to extend Victoria’s State of Emergency powers.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on Wednesday refused to say whether an eleventh-hour agreement was made with the party to secure Samantha Ratnam’s crucial vote on the controversial legislation.
The Greens MP, who initially intended to miss the vote, came in from maternity leave in a surprise intervention to support the Bill that passed the Upper House at 2am Wednesday.
Ms Mikakos repeatedly dodged questions about whether the government had cut a deal to secure the arrangement or what of promises had been offered.
“I engaged in very constructive dialogue with all the crossbench members over the past week,” she said.
“Yes there were some compromises that were made. Significant changes made to the legislation curtailing the period to a six-month additional cap rather than the original (12-month) period.
“This is a very good outcome for the people of Victoria.”
The government backed down on its bid to extend the powers by up to 12 months after intense backlash.
The original proposal would have given Premier Daniel Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton the ongoing power to impose restrictions, including to wear masks or to stay at
home, without parliament’s approval until September 2021.
Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said Ms Mikakos comments on Wednesday showed a secret deal had been done.
He said Acting Victorian Greens leader Ellen Sandell had also refused to deny a deal during a radio interview.
“They’re not prepared to tell Victorians what that was,” Mr O’Brien said.
“You can only assume the public would be angry at it.
“If there was no deal done, about any other issue, why would they have just said there was no deal.
“It was a 20-19 vote.”
Premier Daniel Andrews said the government had held a “good faith discussion” with MPs.
“Sometimes members of the crossbench will vote with us, sometimes they won’t,” he said.
“Ms Ratnam returning to parliament is entirely a matter for her.
“It’s about finding common ground. There’s been some compromise.”
The lower house is expected to vote on the Bill on Thursday, but is expected to pass because the government has the numbers.
– Kieran Rooney
LOCKDOWN TAKES TOLL ON MENTAL HEALTH
Victoria has lost its title as the country’s happiest state, with locked-down residents racked with anxiety.
The state has pulled away from the rest of the country, an Australian National University study of the mental health of 3000 adults has revealed.
The gaps are widest in areas such as emotional distress, life satisfaction and likelihood of being infected by COVID-19.
In January, Victorians were the happiest people in Australia, but the new study shows the pandemic is taking its toll.
“Given the circumstances in Victoria, it is unsurprising there has been a greater increase in worry and anxiety among people in that state – jumping from 58.9 per cent in May to 68.1 per cent in August,” Centre for Social Research and Methods associate director and study co-author Nicholas Biddle said.
This compared with a jump in anxiety from 56 per cent to 60 per cent from May to August in the rest of Australia.
The figures come as 74 per cent of the 25,000 confirmed cases of coronavirus in Australia are in Victoria, along with 84 per cent of the deaths.
Victoria is not doing better than other states on any of the 12 variables researchers examined, and is much worse on eight of them.
While rates of loneliness declined across the country from 45 per cent in April to 35 per cent in May, they rose again in August, largely due to an increase in Victoria.
Given the “stage-four lockdown restrictions in Melbourne and stage-three restrictions in the rest of Victoria … it is not surprising that there has been a divergence in behaviour between Victoria and the rest of the country”, Professor Biddle said.
The survey also shows people across the country are less likely to follow physical distancing. In total, 72 per cent of Australians reported that in the seven days preceding the August survey they always or mostly avoided crowded places. This is compared with 94 per cent in April.
Co-author Matthew Gray said the latest poll revealed “worrying” trends related to physical distancing behaviour.
“For example, declines were greatest outside of Victoria. But even in that state, there has been fewer people following the requirements since April,” Professor Gray said.
These findings differ from other studies done by the Australian Bureau of Statistics, which recently found Victoria was little different from the rest of Australia in terms of household impacts of COVID-19. But the ANU study has a large sample size and a longitudinal sample.
– Susie O’Brien