IT WAS one hell of a press conference.
One of the most momentous made by any State Premier.
But was he blaming us for the escalation in the number of positive cases, hitting an alarming high on Tuesday, July 7 of 191 in a single day, prompting a return to Stage Three restrictions in Melbourne and some new rules in regional Victoria too, although we got off fairly lightly by comparison.
In his wide-ranging address, Daniel Andrews covered the return to school next week, delayed for Years 10 (except those doing VCE subjects) and below in metro areas but later clarified by the Member for Eastern Victoria Harriet Shing as business as usual for country school kids – all back to school as usual next week.
He spoke about the alarming trend in coronavirus cases, especially in metropolitan Melbourne and what we all must do.
There’s certainly no room for complacency in country areas, where cafes, pubs and gyms can stay open; and the return to junior sports looks on track in country areas next week. Not only will we continue to escape Stage Three restrictions, but the Premier also held out hopes of an easing of restrictions.
But it all depends on keeping the numbers down and that means observing the rules.
Here’s what the Premier had to say yesterday afternoon:
Thanks for joining us for some very significant announcements.
We have 2824 cases of coronavirus in Victoria, that’s 191 more than yesterday. They can be broken into two groups 37 that are connected to known and contained outbreaks and 154 cases that are currently under investigation by out public health team.
We yesterday again broke a testing record in a single day with 26,554 tests, and again let me thank each and every Victorian who consented to being tested. It gives us the data that’s just so, so important to us understanding where the virus is and exactly what challenge we face. That brings our total testing since January 1 to a total of 979,253 tests and it is almost certain that we will breach the 1 million tests on the testing activity that’s going on today.
There are 35 Victorians in hospital and nine of those are in intensive care. There are 772 active coronavirus cases across the state and of course there are many thousands more close contacts who are being worked with in terms of trying to contain the spread of the virus and our public health team is doing that very important work as best they possibly can.
In terms of the high-rise towers, 69 cases are linked to those towers up from 53 yesterday.
These are unsustainably high numbers of new cases. It is simply impossible with case rates at this level to have enough contact tracing staff to have enough physical reserves no matter where they come from, no matter what uniform they wear in order to continue to supress and contain this virus without taking significant steps.
If we were to fail to take those steps, then we won’t be a couple of hundred cases-per-day it would be many more than that and it would spiral well and truly out of control. Cusp of a second wave, second wave, what people want to call this is entirely irrelevant. We have to be realistic about the circumstances that we confront. We have to be clear with each other that this is not over and pretending that it is because we all want it to be over is not the answer. It is indeed part of the problem, a very big part of the problem.
We do have a chance to change that in the decisions that we all make and the way we conduct ourselves and the way we reset and that is why the public health team have advised me to reimpose Stage Three ‘Stay at Home’ restrictions, staying at home except for the four reasons to leave effective from midnight tomorrow night (Wednesday, July 8, 2020) for a period of six weeks. There is simply no alternative other than thousands and thousands of cases, and potentially more, many, many people in hospital and the inevitable tragedy that would come from that.
I think a sense of complacency has crept into us as we let our frustrations get the better of us. I think that each of us know someone that has not been following the rules as well as they should have. I think that each of us know that we’ve got no choice but to take these very, very difficult steps.
It was a long night and we have been working throughout the day to get all the data we possibly could to make the best evidence-based, scientific-based decisions, about what the steps should be.
If I can run you through the detail of these decisions and then of course we’re happy to take questions. But essentially all of the local government areas and the Mitchell Shire which I regret to say, unlike the rest of regional Victoria, there are an unsustainable large number of positive cases in Mitchell Shire. So all of those metropolitan local government areas, plus Mitchell Shire will be the subject of the Stay at Home order from midnight tomorrow night (Wednesday, July 8). Those four reasons which are well known they will extend to each and every person across the metropolitan area. That is to say much like the settings that apply to those 12 locked-down postcodes, we have seen more positive cases in those postcodes and we have also seen leakage out of those postcodes and infections into other parts of Melbourne and then when you add all those things together and when you get an aggregate picture we know we are on the cusp of something very, very bad if we don’t take these steps today.
There are a couple of differences with the Stay at Home order this time as compared to last time. You will be able to go out to go to work if you have to, to go shopping for the things you need when you need them, to study, to provide care or to get care. People are well acquainted with those rules.
Daily exercise though will be treated differently. You cannot leave metropolitan Melbourne to get your daily exercise. There are a number of now, on the advice of the chief health officer, very low public health risk activities that will be permitted that were not permitted last time. But the most important point to make around exercise is that you can’t be going on a four-hour bush walk, hundreds of kilometres away from Melbourne. You can’t be going fishing, again, outside the metropolitan area down into regional Victoria. Regional Victoria has very, very few cases and vast parts of regional Victoria have no cases, this is designed to keep it that way.
And I hope to be able to be before you soon to talk about further easing of restrictions in regional Victoria. That’s not for today. I do hope that is quite soon and we’ll only be able to achieve that if we continue to contain within metropolitan Melbourne and not see large outbreaks or additional cases in regional Victoria.
In terms of ‘Principal Place of Residence’, stay at home means just that. Not stay at your holiday home. Not stay at your second home. Your principal place of residence is where you must be, except for the four reasons to leave your home.
This is I know further than we went last time, but we are in many respects in a more precarious, challenging and potentially tragic position than we were some months ago. The notion of people continuing to move around the state from one residence to another is a risk that the public health team is not prepared to take and on that basis the stay at home order is about your principal place of residence, your actual home, not a second residence wherever that might be.
In terms of schools, of course this will be of great concern to parents, to teachers, to school communities right across the state. We’ve made a number of decisions and there are some others yet to come. Let me tell you what we have already decided. From Monday, Year 11 and 12 students, so VCE students and Year 10 students for the VCE component of their learning if they are doing VCE subjects will return to school as normal for face-to-face learning. That is principally a function of the fact that as older students they are able to maintain physical distancing since they are able to be much more careful in getting to and from school and indeed many of them, certainly much more of them than the younger cohorts will get to school on their own, they won’t need to have parents taking them and picking them up. That is seen as a much lower risk and of course, every day at school is important but for those Year 11 and Year 12 students we want to make sure that their VCE is not any more disrupted than it already has been and we want the Certificate of Education to be meaningful across both regional Victoria and metro and have two very different settings I think would potentially cause us some issues there. In addition to those Year 11 and Year 12 students and the Year 10s who are doing VCE subjects, specialist schools will also reopen or come back from holidays and there will be face-to-face programs as per normal from Monday. That is in recognition of the very significant challenges that those higher needs kids have and their families have learning from home, the flexible learning and the feedback from parents, from teachers, fromk those who know and understand those challenges best that it is not a practical option so they will return to school as well on Monday.
As for all other students we will extend the school holidays for a further week, there will be five “pupil-fee days” next week. Teachers will be at work, they will be at school and they will be doing two things; firstly preparing for whatever the balance of the term may look like and we will make further announcements once we see more data as things are a little more settled in the coming days, again giving parents as much notice as we can. And the second function that those teachers will, at least some of those teachers will be performing is for parents that are working in essential jobs that can’t be done from home, whether mum and dad are stacking shelves at Coles or Woolworths or whether mum and dad are a nurse, or a police officer; those kids will be able to be taken to school and for next week there will be a supervised school holiday program for them. We will, before the end of this week, we will finalise what our plans are for flexible and remote learning at the very latest by early into next week so giving parents as much notice as possible. But those arrangements will be in place; Year 11 and 12 back to school, and specialist schools back, on Monday. Business as usual. And for the rest of our kids, we will make further announcements quite soon. But for those who are children of essential workers, or people who simply can’t work from home, there will be supervised school holiday programs for them. And just finally, there is a week’s extension of the school holidays to give us some more time to plan some more, to get some more data and to see exactly the most contemporary picture of the challenge that we face. And I might add that there has been consultation in the past couple of hours with the Catholic and independent sectors and I think that we will be able to get broad agreement and have one setting that will apply to schools right across our state. We will update you on that as we have those details to hand.
In terms of the public housing towers, the nine towers that remain in that hard lockdown, I just want to assure everyone across the state, that there are literally thousands of people, and if I can give a shout out to the Lord Mayor, to other local government, to Andrew Crisp as the emergency management commissioner, the person who is down there running each element of this massive response to this challenge, can I send a very clear message to every resident and to every Victorian who is concerned for those residents we all are. The strategy here is to complete the testing and then as soon as possible once that testing is complete to have those nine towers moved to the same footing as that the rest of Melbourne will move to at 11.59pm tomorrow night (Wednesday), a stay at home with four reasons to leave.
Now those who test positive, like any person who tests positive across the state regardless of their postcode, regardless of their landlord and their close contacts they would of course need to be treated differently. And we may have to put some very specialised and very targeted supports and measures in place to look after those people who test positive. This is not going to last a moment longer than it needs to, to keep those residents safe and to have what I know are very challenging measures, but they are proportionate to the risk, when you consider, as we have said many, many times, the fact that so many people in those nine towers are among some of the most vulnerable people in our Victorian community. Just finally on those towers can I indicate my thanks to everyone who has donated food or their time, all of our partners, they’re doing an amazing job as best they can, it’s not easy, it’s very challenging and we do recommit ourselves every moment to doing even better and are meeting the needs of those residents, it is a very challenging environment.
I want to make it clear that that there are literally hundreds of staff, both clinical and support staff who are currently going door-to-door in those tower blocks testing and the response from residents has been very positive, very strong and we will get those samples off to the laboratory, we have dedicated capacity to get those tests done as quickly as possible and I don’t think other Victorians will mind priority given to those samples given that they are in the hardest lockdown that we have seen anywhere in our state. We will be able to update you further tomorrow on the total number of tests that have been taken but the early signs of that really intense phase, which has been the story of today, are very positive.
Just finally before this press conference I spoke to the Prime Minister and informed him of the decisions that I had made on the advice of the chief health officer. I want to thank the Prime Minister for his consistent support and I also want to share with you that I have requested from the Prime Minister a number of further supports. As you know we’ve had significant ADF personnel in the state control centre, we’ve had significant ADF personnel out helping in some of our massed testing sites as well as many hundreds of public servants helping us with our door-knocking and other community engagement work. I can inform you that I have asked for a further 260 ADF personnel to principally help with on-ground support whether it be in staging areas, planning, logistics, transport; they will essentially support Victoria Police as police put in place roadblocks and other command centres to ensure that the hard boundary between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria is not breached by people who should not be leaving Melbourne because the purpose of their visit is not permitted under those four reasons for leaving home.
It will not be that every car will be stopped, it will be similar to the steps police have taken in those 12 postcodes that have been locked down, it will be Booze Bus type arrangements on main thoroughfares and I will just appeal to Victorians that just because you think you can flout these rules and travel into regional Victoria that there will be every chance that you will be stopped, asked and if you don’t have a lawful excuse, then there are significant penalties that will apply. Victoria Police have always taken their role seriously and they will continue to. That is what we need, we need to make sure that anyone, and we hope it is a small number if any, but if there are any Victorians who do the wrong thing then Victoria Police will be out there to make sure that you are not making choices, selfish choices that put not only your own health risk and the health of your family but indeed the health of every family, and putting them at risk.
All of us have to be realistic about the circumstance we face. No one wanted to be in this position. I know there will be an enormous amount of damage done because of this, it will be very challenging over these next six weeks.
The alternative though is to pretend that it is over just like I think some Victorians have been, wanting it to be over desperately. I get that, I understand that, but we can’t pretend its over. It is not over. It is not over in so many parts of the world, and it is not over in metropolitan Melbourne and indeed to a certain extent, right across Victoria.
There has been no change to the rules in regional Victoria but they are rules and they need to be followed. We will do everything we can to support business, to support anyone and everyone who is impacted by this.
You’ve got the notes but those venues that had been cautiously opening up will now have to go back to takeaway service only. Other businesses that had opened will have close. I know and understand how significant that will be. I know and understand that there will be a big job for us to continue to provide support. Tim Pallas and Martin Vacoola will have more to say about further business support and I will be having further conversations with the Prime Minister about the types of support that business is going to need over these coming weeks and months.
Every Victorian needs to understand that this is not over. It is not something you can pretend and wish away. It is here and it is going to be with us for a very long time. Without a vaccine, without s cure, without better treatments, if we didn’t take these steps today, I will not be standing at this podium and saying there is 191 cases but hundreds and thousands more than that and that it will get right away from us and we will have thousands of people in hospital and we all know what that means, that means tragedy. We have already had two people, two further Victorians pass away in recent times, the last 36 hours and I send my condolences to those families, but we don’t want to see anymore of that we don’t want to see any more tragedy. And it these steps were not taken, and if we all don’t start taking this a little more seriously than what we have been then we will see that. No one wants that today, no one wants that at any point. We can’t just go back to normal, despite the fact that we all want to. We have to find a COVID normal and that means you can’t pick and choose the rule you follow. You can’t let your frustrations get the better of you. We’ve all got to do the right thing otherwise we will not just have tragedy, but we will certainly have a prolonged period of really impactful restrictions, these and potentially more. This is an opportunity to reset, to work together and we are all obliged. It’s not an opportunity to do the right thing, there’s an obligation to do the right thing for your family, for every family. Please follow these rules. There is simply no acceptable alternative.