Melburnians flocked to shops, concerts and horse races for the first time in several months on Saturday as public health restrictions were further eased due to greater Covid vaccination admission.
However, Victoria registered 1,355 new locally acquired Covid infections and 11 Victorians aged between 65 and 85 died.
State Covid Commander Jeroen Weimar announced the figures on Saturday, saying he was convinced the double-dose vaccination coverage had reached 80%, given a reporting delay.
At the national level, the double-dose vaccination rate is more than 76%, with the threshold of 80% to trigger the third phase of the national reopening plan, which is expected to be reached in less than 10 days.
The death toll from the most recent eruption in Victoria is 293.
Meanwhile, in New South Wales, there were 236 new local Covid cases and three deaths among coronavirus residents on Saturday.
Recent fatalities included a Newcastle man in his 40s and a Western Sydney man in his 60s. Both had received one vaccine dose and had underlying health problems. A man in Sydney in the 80s who died at Liverpool hospital was fully vaccinated but had also been ill before contracting the virus.
Deaths across the state since the beginning of the pandemic are now 569.
In the Australian Capital Territory, nine additional Covid cases were discovered.
The numbers came when the president of the Rural Doctors Association of Australia, Dr. Megan Belot, warned Covid patients in rural hospitals faced extended waiting times to be transported to larger hospitals.
Belot, who works in the country of Victoria and was elected to the post last week, said very ill patients waited 24 to 48 hours for a flight.
“The reality is that our small rural hospitals will get pretty busy in the coming months,” she said.
From Monday, both Victoria and NSW will scrap all quarantine requirements for fully vaccinated international arrivals, and while Victoria eased travel restrictions between Melbourne and regional areas on Friday night, NSW residents will have to wait until Monday for travel between greater Sydney and the regions.
The border between Melbourne and the regions has now fallen, masks no longer need to be worn outdoors, and capacity limits have been increased for restaurants, pubs and cafés. Indoor eateries, gyms and retailers have reopened for fully vaccinated patrons.
The solution to the restrictions in Victoria was marked by a handful of large-scale events, including Derby Day at the Flemington Racecourse, where 5,500 people were expected to attend, as well as a concert at the Sidney Myer Music Bowl, where 4,000 people were to gather. Only fully vaccinated participants were allowed.
Weimar – speaking of what was the last of the daily Covid press conferences on Saturday before the Victorian government goes over to release key information and statistics in a daily press release – said the large-scale events would test Victoria’s reopening plan and stressed the continuing need for social distancing even among fully vaccinated people.
Weimar said two-thirds of the new cases in Victoria were under 40 and about a third under 20.
As for quick antigen tests – which are set to go on sale in supermarkets across the country from Monday – Weimar urged people to buy them and keep them in their homes so they could avoid the need to travel to a test site and risk exposure.
“Put them in a drawer at home, if you feel symptomatic, you can use the test to give you that extra bit of reassurance – either you’re okay, or maybe you’m not okay,” Weimar said.
“Obviously, any positive test with a fast antigen test needs to be backed up with a PCR, but these are tools that are becoming more possible and as we begin to move around.”
Thirty Covid-19 test sites, which were forced to close on Friday due to power outages from wild weather, reopened Saturday.
“If you were not able to get to the nearest test site yesterday, do so today,” Weimar said.
Meanwhile, hundreds of people gathered outside the state parliament on Saturday afternoon after the pandemic legislation was introduced by the Victorian government.
Protesters shouted “kill the bill” and other messages about anti-vaccine mandate.
The law passed the lower house on Thursday and will give the prime minister, Daniel Andrews, the power to declare a pandemic and extend it for three months at a time, as long as deemed necessary. It will require the support of three crossbenchers to pass the upper house.
The federal government said on Saturday that it expects a greater proportion of Covid-19 patients will be treated at home as Australia’s vaccination rate rises and fully vaccinated patients who get the virus experience less severe symptoms.
Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said lower rates of serious cases and hospitalizations would shift the focus to community care, adding that “we know there will be more cases that will be treated at home because people will be fully vaccinated “.
“They may not require hospitalization, and then the balance will change.”
When Prime Minister Scott Morrison arrived in Rome for the G20 summit, he said Australia’s economy was already showing signs of recovery.
“The scenes in Melbourne as people [are] “Hurrying back to retail stores is just another sign that the national plan is opening up our economy as our vaccination rates rise,” he said.
“Australians are starting to recover the things Covid has taken from them.”
With the Australian Associated Press