Victoria has recorded 450 new coronavirus cases and 11 deaths as hundreds of anti-maskers vow to attend a rally this weekend.
The figure announced by Premier Daniel Andrews on Friday marks a dramatic decrease from the record 725 cases on Wednesday.
Mr Andrews said seven of the 11 deaths are linked to aged care.
The dead include a woman in her 50s, two men in their 70s, six people in their 80s as well as two women in their 90s.
The embattled premier added 607 Victorians are in hospital with the virus and 41 of them are receiving intensive care.
He said 196 fines have been issued in the last 24 hours for COVID-19 breaches – with 51 for not wearing a mask and 43 for breaching curfew.
Two men have already been arrested in relation to the so-called ‘freedom rally’ which is planned to take place on the steps of Parliament on Sunday.
Education minister James Merlino also announced on Friday all Victorian students studying for their VCE will be individually assessed for any adverse impacts from COVID-19 – which will then be reflected in their ATAR score.
‘This is quite an extraordinary change. So every single student will be individually assessed,’ he said.
‘We’ll look at things such as school closures, we’ll look at things such as long absences.
‘We’ll look at things, for example, such as significant increase in family responsibilities as a result of COVID-19 and we’ll of course consider the mental health and wellbeing of students during this period.’
Premier Andrews meanwhile revealed health officials in the state were door-knocking every single confirmed COVID-19 case.
He said 1,000 of the 1,150 cases visited on Thursday were isolating within the rules, while the 150 who were not have been referred to Victoria Police.
The scheduled protest for Sunday would be in breach of the Chief Health Officer’s directions which bans gatherings of more than two people in public places.
The arrests of the men, both aged 41, came after police searched two homes in Mooroolbark and Chirnside Park on Thursday.
A 41-year-old male from Mooroolbark was charged with incitement. He was bailed and is due to appear at the Melbourne Magistrates Court in January next year.
A 41-year-old male from Chirnside Park was also arrested but was released with intent to summons. He is expected to be charged on Friday with the same offences.
More than 400 people have expressed interest in attending the protest but police have warned they will be dishing out $1652 fines and making arrests.
‘This selfish behaviour will absolutely not be tolerated,’ Victoria Police said.
‘Be assured Victoria Police will be responding and will take appropriate action.
‘There will be a highly visible presence in and around the city to ensure the community is complying with stage four restrictions.’
Police have issued 196 fines in the past 24 hours for breaching the Chief Health Officer directions.
There were 51 fines dished out for failing to wear a face mask, 11 fines came from vehicle checkpoints and 43 for curfew breaches.
Melbourne has been under a police enforceable curfew since Sunday.
Melburnians can only leave their homes between 5am and 8pm for work, care-giving, medical reasons or on compassionate grounds.
The city’s 4.9million residents have also been banned from travelling more than 5km from home to do their shopping – and only one person from each household can leave at any time.
Melburnians allowed to work on-site now have to show a permit or official work ID if they are by stopped police to prove they can leave their homes, or face fines of up to $99,123 for businesses and up to $19,826 for individuals.
Since the Stage 4 restrictions were brought into Melbourne by the Victorian government on Sunday, there’s been rising confusion about who can and cannot leave home for work in metropolitan Melbourne.
The government had promised to provide more details ahead of the restrictions coming into effect from Thursday but business groups say it came very late in night, leaving business scrambling to make adjustments.
Australian Industry Group chief executive Innes Willox said nothing was made available by the Department of Health and Human Services until after 11pm Wednesday – 59 minutes before Stage 3 restrictions came into effect across the entire state.
Health Minister Jenny Mikakos tweeted a public link to the updated guidelines at 1am Thursday.
‘It’s still a bit of a disaster,’ Mr Willox told Nine’s Today show on Thursday.
‘We’re now on the first morning of the new lockdown, and businesses still aren’t clear on what they can and can’t do.
Mr Willox said businesses were ‘flying blind’, particularly on issues like warehouses, noting that ‘reducing numbers of staff in warehouses would impact on food supplies, among many other things’, he told ABC radio.
Retailers across the city will largely be closed to customers and construction and manufacturing is also being scaled back to help slow the virus spread. Workers in meat processing and abattoirs would be reduced amid the changes to businesses.
Premier Daniel Andrews moved forward with the changes despite pleas from businesses to delay shutting down much of the state’s economy.
‘I don’t think any business will be happy with the decisions that have had to be made,’ he said on Thursday.
‘I’m not happy to make these decisions of the but sadly we don’t have the luxury of finding things, of that being the ultimate guide.
‘The guide here has gotta be to drive down the amount of movement to then drive down the number of cases.’
‘I’m not for a moment saying businesses are happy about this. They’re not, I’m not, workers are not. This is not the position we wanted to find ourselves in.’
The Morrison government has raised fears the reduction in warehouse and distribution capacity could sap supply in other parts of Australia.
But Mr Andrews is adamant he has struck a delicate balance as the state enters the country’s harshest lockdown.
‘A lot of work has gone into driving down staff levels but, at the same time, protecting the amount of product that will be on supermarket shelves,’ he said.
‘That’s our aim. That’s what we think we can confidently deliver.’
Business leaders held crisis talks with the state government on Wednesday night over fears the clampdown on warehouses could trigger national food shortages.
In response, supermarket distribution centres and medical warehouses will have an extra two days to comply with restrictions.
From midnight on Sunday they will be forced to reduce capacity by a third.
Red meat processors will switch to 66 per cent, while abattoirs with 25 or fewer staff will be exempt.
Poultry will only fall to 80 per cent capacity in a bid to avoid birds being destroyed but not processed, which would have sparked significant chicken shortages.
Police and ADF personnel have been seen trudging the streets of Melbourne throughout the state’s deadly second wave of infections, making sure residents are following the public health advice and covering their faces.
Amid the outbreak, regional Victoria has entered Stage 3 restrictions, with residents only able to leave their homes for four reasons: to shop for food and essential items, to provide or receive care, exercise, and work and study if they can’t from home.