At last, Melburnians are given a few rewards

Well done, Melburnians. You’ve responded to one of the toughest and longest lockdowns in the world with resilience and determination. It is your efforts – the masks, the home-schooling, the work permits, the testing – that have driven the number of COVID-19 infections down.

Many of the immediate rewards for the hard work are small but significant. Good riddance to the overnight curfew, an affront to the dignity of every adult which no health official or epidemiologist ever endorsed. While the ‘‘two households’’ rule also appears to be an arbitrary limitation on movement, many friends and families welcome the chance to socialise, even if it’s only at picnics in our unpredictable spring weather.

Flinders Street Station shortly after the curfew began in early August.Credit:Justin McManus

The real game changer is that all restrictions on childcare are scrapped immediately and all primary school students will be able to go to class from October 12. While the lockdown has created stresses for almost everyone, working parents have been under enormous pressure and our children have been lonely too long.

Victoria’s manufacturing gets a boost, as close to 127,000 employees clock on at workplaces with COVID-safe plans. Supermarkets and distribution centres will be at full capacity; abattoirs will run at up to 90 per cent, allaying fears of Christmas shortages. Reopening schools or meat processing plants is not without risk, as everyone remembers from the many outbreaks through July, so contact tracing must finally be up to standard.

The Andrews government can no longer offer bland reassurance about its performance on the pandemic frontline. The hotel quarantine inquiry has shown that while Victorians turned out to be the most compliant citizens in Australia, we were betrayed by a faltering bureaucracy and a clueless cabinet. Premier Daniel Andrews would do well to remember this when lecturing Victorians about how “our biggest enemy is complacency”.

It is good to see that the directions on the road map out of lockdown purgatory can be altered as the data changes. We welcome the decision to scrap set dates for reopening and the tantalising prospect of an early jump to the moderated freedoms of stage three, determined by results rather than forecasts – that’s real reward for the efforts of Victorians.

The fine print of the latest revisions will be made clear only in coming days. The Age endorses the stricter mask rules, as clear face visors appear to offer no protection. We regretfully endorse the ring of steel that keeps Melburnians barricaded from the country – it is right to wait until our numbers are lower before travelling to the regions.

But we are unconvinced about the need to maintain the five-kilometre radius rule, especially as travel for work, school and care will already create greater movement throughout the city. Even some of the stricter epidemiologists have suggested that stir-crazy city dwellers be allowed to roam a little more freely. Travelling across the city to exercise outdoors or meet another household for a masked-up picnic would be low risk.

Finally, we wish the latest Health Minister, Martin Foley, the very best in taking on this incredibly tough portfolio in difficult circumstances, after Jenny Mikakos deservedly became the fourth Victorian minister to go in three months. It’s an enormous task, but we believe this thoughtful, details-oriented minister has the ability to whip his cumbersome and confusing department into shape. He should be given the authority and resources to do so. Our lives depend upon it.

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