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Victorians will be able to resume home renovations as early as next week, with the government set to accelerate the return of one of the major arms of the construction sector.
While much of the industry has already returned from a two-week shutdown announced last month, indoor home renovations were to have been banned until the state reached its 80 per cent double-dose COVID-19 vaccination target.
Home renovations are set to be permitted earlier than scheduled.Credit:James Brickwood
However the government will in the next few days announce that the industry will now reopen once 70 per cent of people over 16 are fully vaccinated, according to two industry sources who spoke anonymously because the government was yet to make the decision public.
Government forecasts suggest the state will reach the 70 per cent milestone as early as next Friday rather than Tuesday, October 26 which was the date earmarked in the reopening road map.
Premier Daniel Andrews said on Wednesday morning that the government intended to end the lockdown as soon as the state hit the 70 per cent double-dose target. However, he said final plans for the reopening had not yet been decided.
Speaking later in the day to ABC Radio Melbourne, Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the government would announce whether the lifting of the lockdown would be brought forward as soon as it had clarity on which day the 70 per cent target would be hit.
He said this announcement could be made as early as Friday so that the community had time to prepare.
Home visits are not permitted until the 80 per cent target is reached but Professor Sutton said they could be allowed at 70 per cent if hospitalisations and case numbers were at an acceptable level.
He said case numbers were beginning a consistent downward trend or, at worst, plateauing. Professor Sutton said this was driven predominantly by vaccine coverage which was slowing down the spread.
“We can all be confident we’ll see gradually lower numbers over coming days,” he said.
The Master Builders Association of Victoria has spent weeks lobbying the government to bring back the renovation sector, which has been shut for months this year and parts of 2020 also.
The association’s chief executive Rebecca Casson said many renovation businesses were small family concerns that had not received adequate financial support.
“They have been forced to stand down staff with the added risk of losing key staff due to skill shortages. This prolonged lockdown has also brought mental health impacts on small businesses and their employees,” she said.
“The renovation sector has demonstrated vaccination compliance and proven that it can manage the risks of COVID-19.”
The government’s decision to revive the renovation sector more quickly represents a renewed sense of collaboration with the sector after the relationship deteriorated when all building sites were shut down last month amid compliance concerns.
It’s also a sign of the government’s keenness to kickstart the economy even if its decisions create a marginally greater risk of contributing to COVID-19 spread.
Neil Gardner, director of home renovation specialist Supa Group, said getting back to work would allow dozens of his clients to have their homes finished in time for Christmas.
“We’ve got people who’ve been living for months on building sites basically,” he said.
“There hasn’t been a lot of joy. People have been understanding of the situation, but we want this resolved for our clients.”
The Victorian government has been contacted for comment on the renovation restart.
It’s not yet clear how many people will be permitted inside a home for renovations when the sector reopens. Five people are permitted on-site for smaller construction sites, while only one person is allowed to do outdoor home building jobs.
Victoria recorded 1571 new local cases of COVID-19 on Wednesday and 13 deaths, the highest daily toll in Victoria this year.
News of the sector’s return came as Victoria’s effective reproduction number – an assessment of how many other people each case will infect – dropped below one for the first time since the outbreak began in early August. This is a key sign the outbreak is slowing.
Epidemiologist and biostatistician Adrian Esterman said Wednesday’s 1571 meant the number had sunk to 0.99, meaning every 10 cases will infect 9.9 others.
This number will continue to decrease if Victoria’s cases have peaked, as Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton again expressed “cautious optimism” had occurred on Wednesday.
The highest number of daily infections reported to date was 1965 on Saturday.
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