Cars and trucks queued at numerous border points for hours before driving across at midnight, to the sound of cheering passengers and the tooting of horns.
The move has been welcomed by tourism groups and border communities on both sides of the Murray River.
“The fact that we can get families together over Christmas and not worry about borders between Victoria and NSW is hugely important, said Australian Accommodation Association CEO Dean Long.
“It’s great for the soul, and it’s great for the economy.”
The removal of border checkpoints coincided with the further easing of pandemic restrictions in Victoria.
Cafes and restaurants can significantly increase capacity, while the total number of visitors permitted in home in a single day has risen to 15.
Perhaps the biggest sigh of relief will be from people frustrated with mandatory mask rules, which dramatically softened at the stroke of midnight.
Restrictions that eased overnight:
- Amusement parks – up to 25 per cent capacity, group limit of 50 people
- Cinemas – cinemas, galleries and small theatres my have up to 150 patrons per space. Limits on drive-in cinemas have been removed
- Gaming venues – up to 150people at electronic gaming venues
- Gyms – up to 150 people, group limit of 20
- Hairdressers – clients can remove masks if necessary fr procedure (facial waxing, beard trim, piercing etc)
- Hospitality – venues with less than 200sq m floor space can have up to 50 people. Larger venues can host up to 150 patrons subject to density rules. Up to 300 patrons outdoors, with a combined maximum total of 300 for both indoors and outdoors
- Large venues – large theatres, galleries and museums can operate at a maximum of 25 per cent of capacity
- Masks – must be worn indoors and on public transport. May be removed outdoors, providing social distancing is maintained, but must be carried at all times
- Nightclubs – same as hospitality venues, seated only
- Outdoor entertainment – for seated spaces, up to 50 per cent capacity with a maximum of 500 people. Non-seated subject to density rules
- Outdoor gatherings – up to 50 people from any number of households
- Outdoor sport, recreation – maximum of 500 patrons. Groups limited to 50 people
- Religious gatherings – up to 150 people indoors, 300 outdoors. Indoor and outdoor ceremonies must not be conducted at the same time
- Return to work – up to 25 per cent of staff can return to the office. Other employees must continue to work from home
- Social gatherings – households can have a total of 15 visitors per day, increasing to 30 people from December 13
- Sporting venues, large – 25 per cent capacity
- Swimming Pools – 150 people indoors, 300 outdoors, subject to density quotients
- Weddings, funerals – up to 150 people with density quotient of one per 4sq m indoors or outdoors
Pictured: Journalist Lewis Haskew snapped this image this morning as he became one of the first Victorians to cross into NSW following the lifting of border closures
More Geelong venues reopen
Some of Geelong’s most popular attractions, including the waterfront carousel and the National Wool Museum, are set to reopen as the state continues to emerge from its long COVID slumber.
City-managed swim, sport and leisure facilities will increase patron numbers from today, along with other privately-run venues.
The City of Greater Geelong said it would assess the changes and move quickly to implement the required COVID-safe measures.
But it urged patrons to comply with remaining pandemic protection measures, such as the requirement to maintain a distance of 1.5 metres and to wear a mask when required.
Mayor Stephanie Asher said the further easing of restrictions was a “great reward” for people who have sacrificed so much this year.
“This is especially great news for our hospitality, tourism and retail sectors,” she said.
“Many restaurants and cafes are already well prepared as a result of their innovations to accommodate the increase in outdoor diners allowed, while tourism operators are poised to welcome even more visitors over coming weeks and months.
“It’s also a great opportunity to support local businesses across a range of sectors in our region, which have been doing it really tough this year.”
24 double-donuts but experts warn it’s far from over
Victoria has recorded 24 consecutive days of ‘double donut’ coronavirus numbers – zero deaths, zero new cases – however experts are warning against complacency, as other parts of the world struggle with a third wave that has seen record infections and fatalities.
This morning’s figures mean the state is only four days of zero cases away from reaching the government’s trigger point for what it calls ‘COVID normal’ – a level of restrictions that will allow Victorians to live as normal a life as possible while still working to prevent more infections.
Pandemic rules have been significantly relaxed in Victoria during the night, however the state government acknowledges the looming return of Australians stranded overseas poses a serious threat.
Melbourne University epidemiologist Professor Tony Blakely says we should not make the mistake of thinking COVID-19 is done.
“It seems impossible that with all the citizens coming back to Australia, who are coming from high infection environments that there won’t be an occasional leakage out of quarantine,” he said.
“It seem highly likely that the virus will pop up here and again.”
International travel remains out of reach
Australians are being warned not to expect to be able to travel internationally before the second half of 2021, even though a COVID-19 vaccine appears to be imminent.
Federal Trade Minister Simon Birmingham said the resumption of overseas travel depended on how quickly the vaccine can be distributed, not only across Australia but around the globe.
A vaccine is expected to become available in the first few months of next year.
But Mr Birmingham said restarting international travel in before June or July at the earliest, would be challenging.
He said there was no point in speculating about when international borders will reopen.
Leaders pledge to assist developing countries
Australia has signed on to an international agreement aimed at helping developing countries access the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as it becomes available.
Addressing the G20 summit, German Chancellor Angela Merkel said ensuring the vaccine is distributed globally was the only way of eliminating the virus.
“In order to halt the pandemic, every country needs to have access to, and be able to afford, the vaccine,” she told the meeting via video link.
“The funds pledged so far are not enough to achieve this.”
Prime Minister Scott Morrison told the summit that giving people hope was key to fighting off the pandemic.
Outgoing US president Donald Trump made a brief appearance via a pre-recorded video, targeting the other major issue of the conference climate change.
Trump contended the international accord was “not designed to save the environment – it was designed to kill the American economy”.
UK vaccine available ‘within weeks’
Britain could begin distributing Pfizer-BioNTech’s COVID-19 vaccine within weeks, with media reporting the product will get regulatory approval this week.
The Telegraph newspaper is citing government sources who say the country’s National Health Service has been told to be ready to administer the vaccine by December 1.
However the UK Department of Health had no comment on Sunday on when the first vaccinations would be administered.
The US Food and Drug Administration said on Friday it would meet on December 10 to discuss whether to authorise the vaccine.
WHO warns of third European wave
A World Health Organisation special envoy on COVID-19 is predicting a third wave of the pandemic in Europe in early 2021, if governments fail to take needed action.
“They missed building up the necessary infrastructure during the summer months, after they brought the first wave under the control,” the WHO’s David Nabarro said in an interview with Swiss newspapers.
“Now we have the second wave. If they don’t build the necessary infrastructure, we’ll have a third wave early next year.”
Infection rates across Europe are surging, with Germany and France seeing a combined of 33,000 on Saturday.
Switzerland and Austria have thousands of cases daily, while Turkey reported a record 5,532 new infections.
Nabarro singled out Switzerland’s move to allow skiing – with masks required in gondolas – as other Alpine nations like Austria have shuttered resorts. Nabarro said Switzerland could reach a “very high level of sicknesses and deaths”.
Nabarro lauded the response of Asian countries like South Korea, where infections are now relatively low: “People are fully engaged, they take on behaviours that make it difficult for the virus. They keep their distance, wear masks, isolate when they’re sick, wash hands and surfaces. They protect the most endangered groups.”
“You must wait until case numbers are low and stay low,” he said. “Europe’s reaction was incomplete.”