Vaccine passports to be trialled as lockdown restrictions set to ease further

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Melburnians will be allowed to enjoy new freedoms including playing golf or tennis and roaming up to 15 kilometres from home as Victoria takes another step to reopening large areas of public life.

On Sunday, Industry Recovery Minister Martin Pakula said COVID-19 vaccine passports might be trialled at the Melbourne Cup to allow crowds to return to the spring carnival, as well as other ticketed events in country Victoria and metropolitan suburbs.

Regional hospitality, hairdressing and tourism businesses in six local government areas will be part of a two-week trial in October to determine how vaccine passports could be rolled out across the state, with the Premier indicating COVID-19 jabs would probably be mandated for those sectors.

Victoria recorded 779 cases on Sunday and the deaths of two men – one in his 70s from Hume and another in his 80s from Moreland – both of whom were unvaccinated, as the number of active cases in the state hit a record high of 8011.

The Andrews government is preparing to ease restrictions from 11.59pm on Tuesday as the state slowly hits its vaccination milestones, with health officials pleading with Victorians – particularly the elderly and vulnerable – not to delay getting immunised.

“It’s a plea from me as a public health official, as a physician, but also as a human being, and a daughter: please get vaccinated,” Deputy Chief Health Officer Deb Friedman said.

Industry Recovery Minister Martin Pakula details the pilot scheme on Sunday.Credit:Chris Hopkins

“If your elderly parents are yet to get vaccinated, please recognise they are especially vulnerable. Please encourage them because two doses of this safe, effective and free vaccine can save their life.”

Stay-at-home orders in Geelong and the Surf Coast will be lifted from 11.59pm on Sunday, though residents in Mitchell Shire will remain in lockdown due to higher numbers of active cases and its proximity to the epicentre of the COVID-19 outbreak at the City of Hume.

However, from 11.59pm on Tuesday, restrictions will be slightly eased across locked-down areas, as well as regional Victoria, when the state is expected to reach a significant milestone: 80 per cent single-dose vaccinations.

Melburnians and Mitchell Shire residents will be permitted to play “contactless” outdoor activities, such as golf and tennis; the 10-kilometre radius will be expanded to 15 kilometres; and personal training will be allowed with five fully vaccinated people and a fully vaccinated trainer.

Deputy Chief Health Officer Deb Friedman pleaded with people to get vaccinated. Credit:Chris Hopkins

Restrictions on playgrounds will be also be lifted, allowing people to gather in groups of two or five (depending on their vaccination status) and remove masks to eat and drink.

Premier Daniel Andrews acknowledged the incremental nature of the changes. “They are modest things, it’s not freedom day, it’s not the end of the lockdown. That is getting closer every day though,” he said.

Deakin University chair of epidemiology Catherine Bennett and the Australian Hotels Association welcomed the government’s moves to trial vaccine passports before the country reopens its economy with high vaccination rates while the virus circulates.

“The trials aren’t in risk-free areas and that’s really important,” Professor Bennett said. “You need to do it in areas that have some exposure, potentially, not just to see how the process works, but to understand how risk management works.

“We need to take steps, evaluate, and that makes you more confident that the approach works.”

The Victorian government will nominate up to 20 businesses in the local government areas of Buloke, Pyrenees, Bass Coast, Greater Bendigo, East Gippsland and Warrnambool — all of which have high vaccination rates and low to no coronavirus cases – to take part in the trial of vaccine passports.

Mr Pakula said the trial, beginning on October 11, would flesh out how best to determine a person’s vaccination status, including how the federal government’s immunisation register could be linked to the Service Victoria app, and alternative ways for people to prove they have been fully vaccinated if they do not have a smartphone.

“We’ll also be looking at what sort of training staff need, what sort of support business owners require, what sort of public communication or vaccine requirements will be necessary,” Mr Pakula said. “All of that will be fed into these trials.”

Australian Hotels Association chief executive Paddy O’Sullivan said the industry body supported vaccination programs for staff and customers “within the appropriate legal frameworks” to allow pubs and hotels to reopen.

“AHA is awaiting further details on announced vaccination-only trials for regional pubs and hotels,” Mr O’Sullivan said. “As part of the trial our aim is to ease patron capacity restrictions to a meaningful level in order to make it a viable business model.”

Louise Staley, the opposition’s spokeswoman for regional recovery, said the lack of detail on the trial was worrying, and there should be a transparent and fair application process to determine which businesses would be allowed to take part in the two-week scheme.

“Although Daniel Andrews has previously ridiculed the Liberal Nationals’ calls for COVID rules based on local government areas, todays trials by LGA are a welcome reversal,” Ms Staley said.

“Regional businesses and events are keen to start the COVID recovery phase so the government must allow all businesses within the trial areas to participate rather than exclude any without justification.”

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