Melburnians have made a mockery of tough Stage 4 lockdowns by packing into parks, cycling tracks and food markets on Sunday.
Victoria recorded another 16 deaths and 279 new cases with a State of Emergency extended for another four weeks, but it didn’t stop Melbourne residents from lapping up the sunshine.
Under Stage 4 lockdown rules, residents are banned from leaving their homes between 8pm and 5am unless for work or care-related reasons, and are required to wear face masks unless they are exempt on medical or professional grounds.
At all other times locals can only leave home for work or study, to get essential supplies, for medical or care-giving, or for one hour daily exercise within five kilometres of their home.
But on Sunday Melburnians took advantage of government-mandated exercise, and were seen disregarding social distancing measures to flock to the markets and walk along crammed cycling tracks.
Dozens of people were pictured running in close proximity to each other along a walking track in Albert Park, four kilometres from the CBD.
At South Melbourne Markers, hordes of shoppers and families were seen packed together on Sunday morning, despite new rules stating only one person from a household can shop for essentials.
Victoria’s State of Emergency will remain in place until 11:59pm on Sunday September 13.
Premier Daniel Andrews on Sunday refused to reveal when the draconian Stage 4 lockdown would be lifted, but said he is ‘cautiously optimistic’ that restrictions are working.
‘I think it is too early to provide an affirmative picture,’ he said during a press conference on Sunday morning.
‘We have to wait and see what tomorrow’s numbers are. On my part at least, there is a cautious optimism and a sense of real hope that this strategy is working at the we are seeing numbers fall.
‘You have structures and rules that work at a macro level but ultimately, those rules are only as good as the many millions of individual choices and decisions that individuals make everyday.’
Mr Andrews conceded it was ‘unlikely’ the virus would ever be completely eliminated.
‘Even when this second wave is over, we will still see cases, we will still see outbreaks, that is a function of this thing,’ he said.
‘The notion of completely extinguishing it and never seeing it again, I think that it would be an unlikely outcome.’
It comes as the Andrews Government defended its decision to allow farmers markets to stay open during Stage 4 lockdown.
‘Under stage four restrictions you can shop for ‘food and essential supplies’ if safe physical distancing is maintained but that does not mean you can gather in large groups with your mates. All that does is spread the virus,’ a government spokesperson said.
Victoria Police issued 243 fines in the past 24 hours. Of those fines, 28 were for people not wearing a mask, 84 for curfew breaches and 30 were given out at vehicle checkpoints.
Four people were caught breaking curfew in Wyndham to buy cigarettes, while a man living in Torquay travelled over 140km to Castle Cove to surf because there were ‘no waves on the east side’.
It was a similar story in Melbourne on Saturday.
Groups of mothers and their children were spotted huddled together in the park, men were sitting closely together next to a coffee stand and others lined up for food at the markets in Oakleigh in the state’s south-east.
]While the daily case numbers appear to be gradually decreasing, authorities warn there is more progress needed before lockdown restrictions can be eased.
‘We could not conceive of opening up with 200 cases a day,’ Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said on Friday.
‘We couldn’t do it with 100 cases a day. We have to head for the lowest possible number.’
But official government modelling obtained by the Herald Sun has revealed the state could ease out of stage four restrictions on time.
Authorities have plans to gradually ease restrictions providing Melburnians provide ongoing compliance with the rules.
The first step would see Melbourne’s nightly curfew dropped and the gathering of bigger groups by Christmas.
Current government modelling has predicted a return to stage two restrictions by December, meaning families will be able to celebrate the holidays.
Professor Sutton believes the stage three restrictions and mandatory face masks were key in seeing infection cases drop.
Infection cases are expected to fall even further as a result of the strict stage four restrictions across Melbourne.
However, Professor Sutton says the death toll could still be high for days to come.
‘The seven-day trend indicates the peak was probably four or five days ago and we will continue to see lower numbers overall from here on in,’ Prof Sutton said.
While Melbourne is still the worst hit part of the state, concerns remain about regional Victoria after Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo recorded new virus infections.
A man in his 20s became Australia’s youngest COVID-19 fatality on Friday as the state recorded 14 more deaths – 12 of whom were aged care residents.
Aged care deaths make up 70 per cent of coronavirus deaths across the country and remain of great concern to Prof Sutton and Premier Daniel Andrews.
Regional Victorians are living under stage three restrictions.
This means people are only allowed to leave their homes for work, exercise, care and essential shopping.
Restaurants, cafes, bars, gyms and other businesses have been forced to shut while the stage three restrictions are in place.