Covid 19 Australia: Victoria records 705 cases, Queensland and WA face legal issue

Victoria has reported 705 new local cases of Covid-19, a drop from a record 847 cases on Saturday and 779 infections on Sunday.

As vaccination rates grow, the state is now set to ease lockdown restrictions in a series of “trials” from next month.

Hospitality, hairdressing and beauty businesses in regional parts of the state with high vaccination rates will be included in the trials from October 11 to test how a “vaccinated economy” would work.

The date is about two weeks before Victoria is due to hit its 70 per cent double dose target. Currently, 47.7 per cent of the eligible population in the state is fully vaccinated and 77.5 per cent have had their first dose.

“This is a really important step on the paths towards becoming an open vaccinated economy,” Major Events and Jobs Minister Martin Pakula said on Sunday.

“We need these trials to ensure that we understand all the potential issues that might arise,” he said.

There will be up to 20 trial sites and will take place in the council areas of Buloke, Pyrenees, Bass Coast, Greater Bendigo, East Gippsland and Warrnambool.

“Potentially country race meetings, concerts, community gatherings — all of those types of events — will be able to be considered for trials of the double vax economy,” Pakula said.

Training for staff and supports for business owners and public communication of vaccine requirements would be part of the trials, he said.

The trials would also help establish the best way to show someone’s proof of vaccination status and how the Commonwealth’s data could be integrated with the existing Victorian app.

Victoria missed its second vaccination target after the state failed to reach the 80 per cent first doses milestone on Sunday.

Under Victoria’s road map out of lockdown, announced by Premier Daniel Andrews earlier this month, the state was predicted to reach 80 per cent of the eligible population with at least one dose by Sunday.

But Andrews revealed that milestone was now due to be reached on Tuesday, delaying a number of modest freedoms by two days.

From Tuesday, Victorians in lockdown will be able to play golf or tennis again, and go fishing and boating, along with other contactless outdoor recreation activities.

People in metropolitan Melbourne and regional areas in lockdown can also gather outdoors in groups of up to five adults from two households, if all adults are fully vaccinated.

In regional Victorian areas not in lockdown outdoor settings for restaurants and cafes will have their outdoor venue cap increase from 20 to 30 people.

Masks can also be removed in hair and beauty salons so facials and beard trimmings can recommence.

Looming problem for Covid-free states

Both Queensland and Western Australia are in no hurry to open their borders to the rest of the country, but the two states could find themselves vulnerable to unprecedented legal issues as the rest of Australia embraces ‘Covid normal’ in the coming months.

In an interview on The Sunday Project, constitutional lawyer Professor Kim Rubenstein said that anyone adversely affected by the states’ refusal to open their borders could have grounds for a case.

“Any person who is impacted by these restrictions and who can show that this is a disproportionate burden on trade [could mount legal action],” she said.

“So that if it can show that it is, in fact, protecting one state over the other, without a legitimate or proportional response, then it really is available for challenge. And we may, in fact, see that ahead of us.”

Rubenstein explained that the Australian constitution “was motivated by a desire to travel freely across the country. Colonies were finding it difficult to have barriers around trade. Section 92 was placed there to discourage any restriction of travel within Australia.”

Rubenstein said the court would examine “whether these restrictions are needed for the purpose that they’re seeking to achieve in terms of health protection.”

If they’re found wanting, the state could be much more “vulnerable” to legal action.

This week, Queensland Premier Annastacia Palaszczuk was met with criticism when she dashed hopes of interstate reunions for Christmas – regardless of whether vaccination targets are met.

“The reason we have tough border measures in place is because there is a massive outbreak at the moment in New South Wales and Victoria and their hospitals are going to be overwhelmed,” she said, refusing to answer questions about when those border measures might be eased or lifted.

Also in the same Sunday Project segment, epidemiologist Dr Catherine Bennett said that the lower vaccination rates in both states – which plunged further in remote regional areas – would also delay them opening their borders.

“A very risk-averse approach to opening borders takes the pressure off people vaccinating. It becomes a fait accompli – you’re unlikely to reach the vaccination levels needed to be able to open safely,” she said.

Just 63 per cent of eligible Queenslanders and Western Australians have had their first dose of the Covid vaccine, compared to 85 per cent of eligible adults in New South Wales.

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