Mr Andrews condemned the protest, describing it as selfish, dangerous and unlawful.
“The only fight we should be engaged in is against this virus,” the premier said on Saturday, at his 65th consecutive daily media conference.
Mr Andrews late on Saturday released research by the government and its partners Melbourne University and the University of New England that modelled 1000 different scenarios and found Victoria was unlikely to have suppressed the virus by mid-September.
It found that if restrictions were eased when the average number of new daily cases was above 25 over a fortnight, there was a 60 per cent chance of returning to lockdown before Christmas.
Victoria’s daily average over the past week has been 84 – suggesting stage four will be extended beyond September 13.
The number of active cases across Victoria fell to 1956 – down from a peak of 6800 in the first week of August – and active cases in regional areas dropped to 102.
There were 76 new cases identified yesterday, and only one of the new infections was from an unknown source. The premier welcomed the fall in case numbers but said there was “still a really significant challenge for us. To open up with those numbers would see the total number of coronavirus infections explode”.
The premier confirmed 10 of the 11 deaths recorded on Saturday were in aged care. It brought Victoria’s death toll among the elderly to more than 450, federal health department figures showed.
Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton struck an optimistic note, saying the virus was on its “last gasp”, but warned there was still tough work ahead of Victorians. “We need to work harder than maybe we’ve ever done before to make sure that that last gasp is, indeed, the last one”.
Opposition MP Ryan Smith said it was rich of Mr Andrews to promise to repair and rebuild the state when it was his failures that had left Victoria in such a bad position compared to the rest of the nation.
“Victorians are being made to pay for the mismanagement of a bungling premier,” Mr Smith said, warning there was growing frustration with Mr Andrews, and the prospect of lockdown lasting longer.
Mr Smith suggested getting students back to school and allowing sole traders, such as gardeners and tradespeople, to get back to work should be prioritised.
“And again, restrictions like the 8pm curfew, I don’t think anyone has seen any medical reason why that is in place,” he said. Victorians needed to understand better “why those restrictions have been put in place and what outcomes we’re expected to get from them”.
A range of groups contacted by The Sunday Age who were part of a government consultation program last week said they anticipated a very slow loosening of restrictions by a government terrified of both the health and electoral consequences of a third wave of the virus.
One likely element of the “road map” to be detailed by Mr Andrews on Sunday was a staggered return to school campuses for Victorian students – the majority of whom have been learning at home since mid-July.
The Australian Education Union’s state president Meredith Peace said she had told Education Minister James Merlino the union was in favour of bringing select year groups back first.
“With such a disrupted couple of terms, schools need the opportunity to support students who have welfare needs and to see where they are at academically. That will be easier done if we don’t have every student back at the same time,” she said. “The added advantage is you can then manage those important health and safety aspects around the number of students and parents coming in.”
A leaked draft government plan this week indicated prep to grade two and students in years 10, 11 and 12 would return to school for term 4 on October 5, followed by the remaining students. Mr Andrews said the draft was legitimate but outdated and of “no status” on Thursday.
Deputy Chief Medical Officer Professor Michael Kidd reminded Australians it was important not to breach any lockdown restrictions during Father’s Day on Sunday.
“Please do not breach any restrictions in your local area to see your father or put his health and wellbeing at risk, especially if you are living in an area of community transmission or under restrictions,” he said.
Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra warned, in an email to members on Friday, that “returning to a city or statewide stage four lockdown every time an outbreak occurs cannot be an option”. He said the state needed “a plan for the future, not a plan to stay locked down”, and warned that failing to to get the health crisis under control would lead to an avalanche of business closures and permanent job losses.
Real Estate Institute of Victoria president Leah Calnan said she hoped the government moved to allow agents to take at least one or two people through a home for inspection, as was allowed before the stage four lockdown. “There have been no records of COVID through any real estate practices,” she said.
“We would be looking for private appointments to be returned at a minimum, and to allow some level of [staff to] return to the office,” Ms Calnan said. “Private appointments can be one-on-one or an agent with two people viewing a home – there are ways to facilitate it so that it’s safe.”
Australian Industry Group Victorian head Tim Piper said the government had kept expectations of what would be announced on Sunday deliberately low.
“The government is indicating there won’t be significant immediate changes. That’s disappointing, it’s going to make business and life extraordinarily difficult, because businesses are getting to the end of their tether, not just from an emotional perspective but from a cash flow and resource perspective.”
Michael is a state political reporter for The Age.
Clay Lucas is a senior reporter for The Age. Clay has worked at The Age since 2005, covering urban affairs, transport, state politics, local government and workplace relations for The Age and Sunday Age.