The federal treasurer, Josh Frydenberg, has lashed the Andrews government over its roadmap out of lockdown, describing it as “ludicrous” and “unacceptable”, as Victoria recorded 1,993 new Covid cases on Saturday and seven deaths, including a 15-year-old-girl.
The state’s Covid-19 commander, Jeroen Weimar, said the girl had a “number of conditions” but had also been infected with Covid.
“That is a sad and tragic case, we won’t be making a more comments on her, but we will send our best wishes to her family and the family of all those who have lost their lives with Covid, particularly in the last 24 hours,” he said.
A total of 319 new infections and two deaths were recorded in New South Wales and 20 new cases in the Australian Capital Territory. Tasmania, parts of which were plunged into lockdown on Friday, did not add to its one active case.
On Saturday, Frydenberg argued that Victorians “should be getting the same freedoms as the people of NSW” at 70% and 80% vaccination rates, claiming it was “really sad that Victorians are being held back”.
“We may lose the curfew at 70% but you still can’t move more than 25km from your home,” Frydenberg told reporters on Saturday. “Victorians are looking at what is happening in NSW and saying ‘Why do those people get the freedoms at 70 and 80% that we here in Victoria are not getting?’”
On Friday, the NSW government announced it would end hotel quarantine for return travellers, a decision that comes on top of less onerous restrictions on businesses, personal movement and home gatherings at the 70% and 80% thresholds, compared with Victoria’s “cautious” roadmap. NSW is now on the verge of hitting the 80% double-dose vaccination target for those over 16, after reaching 78.8% on Saturday.
“Melburnians have spent more time in lockdown than any other city in the world,” Frydenberg said. “There are going to be more cases, particularly among the unvaccinated. This is what living with Covid means. An elimination strategy is not a viable strategy.”
Labor’s defence spokesman, Brendan O’Connor, responded on Saturday by saying the treasurer was undermining the health orders, while fellow frontbencher Andrew Giles claimed Frydenberg was “playing politics” and his contribution was “unhelpful”.
The Victorian premier, Daniel Andrews, abandoned aspirations for “Covid-zero” in early September, and said when announcing the roadmap that vaccination was the state’s way out of lockdown. He has insisted that the state was “opening up” and that there would be no turning back.
On Friday, Victoria announced it would allow people in NSW to enter the state without quarantining for 14 days from 19 October, provided they get negative tests before and after their arrival. It means people in NSW will be able to enter the state, but Melburnians will still be restricted to a 25km radius.
Weimar said on Saturday that the move to ease border restrictions was aimed helping Victorians get home and reflected the changed “risk profile” between the two states.
“We’ve had a long time where it’s been very hard for Victorians who are in NSW to come back,” Weimar said.
Victoria is currently at 64.3% fully vaccinated, and Weimar said the state was likely to hit the 70% target for vaccination “a few days” ahead of the indicative date of 26 October, when the lockdown is slated to end.
The Victorian chief health officer, Brett Sutton, said this week he was open to recommending that restrictions ease before 26 October if the 70% target is reached sooner.
Weimar said only that there would be “ongoing discussions and commentary over the week ahead”.
On Saturday, the ACT government announced that some regional NSW residents could enter the territory without a permit. Fully-vaccinated ACT residents will also be able to visit towns such as Bowral, Thredbo, Moss Vale, Perisher and Batemans Bay without needed to quarantine when they return home.
In Tasmania, which is now under a three-day lockdown in the south of the state, the premier, Peter Gutwein, said he was not satisfied by the $3,000 fine issued to a man accused of entering the state illegally and escaping hotel quarantine.
“In light of the circumstances that we are in, I believe that we should throw the book at people that flaunt our rules and send our very strong signal that this is just simply not on,” he said.
But he was otherwise pleased that no new cases have been recorded. “The next 48 hours remains critical and I ask all Tasmanians in the south to work together to get on top of this as quickly as we can,” he said.