The road out is long, stay the course
by JAMES POYNER
7th September 2020
ON SUNDAY, September 6, Punxsutawney Dan emerged from his burrow in Parliament House and, upon seeing his shadow, announced the numbers were still too high and Melburnians would have two more weeks of Lockdown, but at least there is a plan, a roadmap to an end to Groundhog Day, and towards COVID Normal.
For the record, I am penning this latest update on day 35 of Stage 4 Lockdown.
It has not been easy and I think you would struggle to find anyone who can genuinely say the opposite.
The new cases are steadily coming down with the seven-day average, as of Sunday, September 6, in the mid-80s.
As if living under curfew and with limited legal reasons to venture beyond the perimeter of your property wasn’t difficult enough, the severe storm that blew across Melbourne and the South East on Thursday, August 27 caused a critical failure at Silvan Water Treatment Plant, releasing untreated water into the water supply.
Yarra Valley Water released a boiled water notification on Friday morning, advising those living in affected suburbs to boil all drinking and food preparation water before use, as a precaution.
The storm also felled trees and powerlines with some households still without power the following Monday.
With certainty, I can say that at four weeks into Stage 4 restrictions, the added challenge of no power and no potable water was an additional test of Melburnians’ resolve.
The Lower House sat for the first time in three months at the beginning of September as Premier, Daniel Andrews sought to pass legislation to allow him to extend the State of Emergency for a further six months.
Under the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, the State of Emergency can be enforced for a maximum of four weeks at a time, at the end of those four weeks it can be extended, but by a maximum of four more weeks.
Under the act, the State of Emergency can only be in continuous enforcement for a maximum of six months.
Originally, Premier Andrews sought to extend the State of Emergency for an additional 12 months but this prompted fierce opposition from the Liberal Party, with both the Leader of the Opposition, Michael O’Brien and Party Leader, Peter Walsh stating they would oppose and vote against any attempt to extend the state of emergency another 12 months.
“This is the act of a Premier whose power has gone to his head.
“We will stand with Victorians whose rights and freedoms are threatened by this extraordinary power grab,” said Mr O’Brien.
Mr Walsh called the proposed action draconian.
“The State of Emergency hands enormous power to the Premier and a small number of unelected officials with very little oversight and accountability.
“There’s a reason it’s strictly limited to a maximum of six months – because no government should be able to write itself a blank cheque for extraordinary powers over Victorians’ lives and livelihoods,” Mr Walsh said.
With Labor holding majority in the Lower House, the real battle for this amendment to The Act was fought in the Upper House, where Labor needed to win support from cross-benchers for it to pass.
On Monday, September 1, amendments to the Public Health and Wellbeing Act 2008, debated as the Public Health and Wellbeing Amendment (State of Emergency Extension and Other Matters) Bill 2020 was eventually passed in the Upper House without amendments.
The Bill allows for an extension of the Victorian State of Emergency for an additional six months — but only in relation to a COVID-19 emergency and has lowered the threshold in which the CHO can authorise enforcement of directions, changing the trigger from “necessary” to “reasonably necessary”.
This should make it simpler for CHO Directives to be enforced more quickly during any future COVID-19 outbreaks.
Following the passing of the Bill in the Upper House, Health Minister, Jenny Makikos took to Twitter to publically thank the crossbenchers who tipped the vote in favour of the amendments, which scraped through the Upper House at 20 votes to 19.
“Thankyou to all Government MPs & to @AndyMeddickMP @FionaPattenMLC & @SamanthaRatnam who put public health above politics & voted to allow a declaration of a State of Emergency to continue for another six months if necessary to protect Victorians from #COVID19 #springst”
The Bill was then debated in the Lower House on September 3–4 and eventually passed, 33 to 23.
The Bill has now passed both houses and awaits Royal Assent.
Once The Bill becomes Law, the amendment to the Health and Wellbeing Act 2003 will be repealed one calendar year after it becomes law.
Amendments to the Victoria Police Act 2013 are also being debated in the Parliament, as part of the Police and Emergency Legislation Amendment Bill 2020.
The proposed changes extend the reach of Protective Services Officers (PSO) in relation to enforcement of public orders by expanding the definition of “designated places” as well as including an amendment to Clause 37b the Police Act which will allow deployment of PSOs in an area declared a State of Emergency or State of Disaster.
The Second Reading of The Bill is scheduled to continue on September 17.
The road out
On Sunday, September 6, the Premier laid out the roadmap to take us to COVID Normal.
Following a preamble from the Premier which indicated the news was not going to be good.
Mr Andrews outlined a roadmap which will see us at COVID Normal by Christmas.
However, this roadmap has checkpoints which must be met before we can begin the next phase out of the second wave.
Regional Victoria is on a different trajectory towards COVID Normal, the restrictions outlined below apply to those living in metro Melbourne.
For the moment, following a 14-day average which has new cases averaging at 100 per day, the numbers are still too high — so Stage 4 restrictions have been extended for an additional two weeks, to at least September 28, with some slight modifications which come into effect at midnight on Sunday, September 13.
Exercise will be extended to two hours per day, and can be split into two one-hour blocks, and has been expanded to include social interactions such as going to the beach, having a picnic, et cetera.
Social interactions outside will be expanded to two people or an entire household.
The nightly curfew will also be modified and will be in effect between 9pm and 5am.
Single parents and those living on their own can also nominate one person to visit them, at their home, during this extended lockdown.
On September 28, if the 14-day average is between 30 and 50 active cases per day in metro Melbourne there will be further easing of restrictions and some businesses will be able to reopen.
For businesses, the road out is very, very long with many sectors which are currently closed, remaining closed until at least Step 3 of the roadmap which, optimistically, is October 26.
For parents of children at the beginning and end of their education journey, a return to face-to-face learning is imminent, with Prep, 1, 2 and VCE students returning to the classroom from October 12.
Those students sitting General Achievement Tests and other essential assessments will be able to sit those, in a school setting from October 5.
More broadly speaking, the roadmap as it currently stands will see curfew and the 5km bubble in effect until the conditions are met to enter the Third Step, which may not be until late October.
The timeline for the five steps to COVID Normal is another 10 weeks of staged easing of restrictions and while we could outline, in full, the roadmap in this story, Victorians need to tread carefully to ensure our efforts keep driving down numbers and moving us towards COVID Normal.
With the excepted easing outlined above, the Stage 4 restrictions we are all used to are still in place until the end of September and masks will continue to be mandatory.
A lot can happen between now and September 28, the Diary will have more information on the second stage of reopening in the September WD Bulletin and in October’s Warrandyte Diary and on the Warrandyte Diary website and social media channels.