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EARLY EXIT HOPE
Herald Sun, Melbourne  by Tamsin Rose
21 Sep 2020
Edition Changes - Page 1 - 773 words - ID 1335794106 - Photo: Yes - Type: News Item - Size: 805.00cm2

GRAND FINAL BOOST Lockdown could be lifted ahead of schedule as COVID-19 cases plunge

MELBURNIANS could be freed from lockdown by early to mid October if COVID-19 cases continue to plummet.

As epidemiologists predict Victoria's 14-day average will dip below five cases a day within a fortnight, it is understood the government could reopen the city ahead of schedule.

That would allow outdoor gatherings of up to 10 for the AFL Grand Final on October 24.

Under the current road map, Melbourne's lockdown will not be lifted until after October 26, on the proviso Victoria hits the five-case target. But on Sunday, Daniel Andrews left the door open to easing restrictions sooner if the case target was achieved, saying: "I've never ruled that out." The Premier said falling case numbers were "cause for great optimism and positivity".

FULL REPORT, PAGE 9

City could be given early mark TAMSIN ROSE GENEVIEVE ALISON MELBURNIANS could be freed from lockdown by early to mid October if COVID-19 cases continue to plummet.

As epidemiologists predict Victoria's 14-day average will dip below five cases a day within a fortnight, it is believed the government could reopen the city ahead of schedule.

That would allow up to 10 Melburnians to gather outdoors to watch the AFL Grand Final on October 24.

Under the current road map, Melbourne's lockdown will not be lifted until after October 26, on the proviso that Victoria hits the case target.

But on Sunday, Daniel Andrews left the door open to easing restrictions sooner, saying "I've never ruled that out".

"We will always be guided by those three things: the evidence and the science, the data and what is deemed safe," the Premier said. "We are on schedule. We may even be a bit ahead of schedule, but we've got to keep going." The Herald Sun believes the government would abandon the October 26 date if the cases target is met and it is deemed safe to do so.

It would allow public gatherings to be increased to 10 people, shops to reopen, restaurants to offer outdoor dining and the end of the curfew.

The government's modelling expert, Professor Tony Blakely of Melbourne University, said the state was tracking well ahead of schedule.

On Sunday, Victoria recorded just 14 new cases - a three-month low - with the 14-day average dropping to just 38.4.

Basic modelling carried out by Prof Blakely, provided to the Herald Sun, shows daily cases could fall to 10 and the rapid fall in cases gave her confidence Victoria could dip below the five-case average within a fortnight.

two-week average to 20 by September 28.

"We are on a good track if the recent past predicts the near future," he said, while warning a moderate cluster in Melbourne could change the predictions. "If we are aiming for tight suppression, which I am led to believe we are, and it is consistent with opening up borders and a hot spot strategy, then there is a case for considering opening up to step three earlier than October 26." However, Prof Blakely said the government needed to factor in three weeks between a minor easing of restrictions on September 28 and the next step out of lockdown.

Melbourne University head of population and global health Nancy Baxter said the "It's going to be at least a week and a bit from now, because even if we got down to almost zero, we have the tail, the numbers from the past 14 days, adding into our averages," Prof Baxter said. "If we're doing really well, I'd say we might even be a couple of weeks early." Deakin University head of epidemiology Catherine Bennett said Victoria's testing and tracing had improved dramatically in the second wave, giving her reason to believe the state government could bring some easing measures forward.

"If it did keep travelling then we would be below five (case average over 14 days) by the end of the month," Prof Bennett said.

"Hopefully, that means the government now has more confidence to reset some of those markers (thresholds) if even if not the numbers, then the dates." Prime Minister Scott Morrison believed thousands of Victorian jobs could "bounce back" by Christmas if the state government handled the "next step right".

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg urged Victoria to open up as soon as possible.

tamsin.rose@news.com.au SHANNON DEERY, PAGE 22

ON THE WAY DOWN 150 Actual daily reported cases DAILY REPORTED CASES OF COVID-19 5-day moving average with slope Last 10 day exponential trend projected 100 14 day average to this day, using observed and projected Source: University of Melbourne epidemiologist Tony Blakely 50 0

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