Chief Health Officer Sutton Hints Early Eases As Victoria Records Second COVID-Free Day

Chief Health Officer Sutton Hints Early Eases As Victoria Records Second COVID-Free Day
Chief Health Officer Professor Brett Sutton during a press conference in Melbourne, Australia on Oct. 31, 2020. (Asanka Ratnayake/Getty Images)

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton has hinted Victorian authorities could raise cap limits and density quotas higher than initially planned for some industries, as the state celebrates its second straight COVID-free day.

Victoria didn't record any fresh cases or deaths on Sunday, and active cases continued to tumble.

The state also reported no new infections on Saturday, with an expert panel reclassifying one case as a false positive.

"Another very good day for Victoria," said Deputy Premier James Merlino on Sunday, filling in for state leader Daniel Andrews.

Back-to-back days without adding to Victoria's virus tally coincides with the first weekend of Melbourne cafes, restaurants and pubs reopening to walk-in customers.

More restrictions are due to ease next Sunday including the scrapping of the so-called "ring of steel" dividing the city from the regions, along with the 25 kilometer travel limit.

Although the encouraging case numbers won't bring forward that date, Sutton said authorities would mull over changes that went beyond those previously announced.

"What allowances come on November 8 will absolutely be informed by what this week looks like," he said.

"Some of the details might change ... we can always make consideration of what caps might be in certain settings, what density quotients might be in those settings.

"And some of the specific industries that might come on board in terms of being able to operate."

When asked if that meant relaxing density limits for restaurants and cafes, Sutton said: "Maybe not for hospitality, but it's all on the board."

The state's virus death toll remains at 819 and the national figure at 907.

Melbourne only has a single mystery case without a known source to Thursday, while the city's average daily case count for the fortnight up to Saturday is 2.2.

There are also just 61 active cases left across the state, down from 70 on Saturday.

Sutton said Victoria could be down to "a couple of dozen" active cases by next week.

Nearly 16,000 tests were taken in the past 24 hours, with Sutton saying it verified Sunday's result as a "true zero."

Mandatory masks will remain a feature of Victorians' daily lives for some time yet but that rule may be revisited with less virus circulating in the community.

"Clearly we should be transitioning and we will be transitioning from universal mask-wearing to maybe indoors only, to maybe just high-risk settings, at the appropriate time," Sutton said.

Ireland has called on Sutton for advice on its Melbourne-style lockdown, hoping to learn from the city's success.

Sutton cited the worsening situation in Europe as a reason for Victorians to reflect on their hard-won gains.

"What Europe is going through now is a consequence of not being able to get to this point where you can stay on top of very low numbers indefinitely," he said.

"If you don't get to that point, it all comes back in a tsunami.

"To see 50,000 cases a day in France, to see Belgium sending patients outside the country because they're so overwhelmed—that's what we might have faced if we hadn't been able to get on top of it."

Meanwhile, the Victorian government announced it would hand out $200 vouchers to support children's return to netball courts, football fields and cricket nets as part of a $45.2 million (US$31.7 million) package.

By Callum Godde