Restriction stages, steps and bubbles: Victoria’s road to ‘COVID Normal’ explained
On 6 September, Premier Daniel Andrews revealed the State Government's ‘Roadmap to Reopening’ Victoria and journey to a state of ‘COVID Normal’.
Beginning from 11:59pm on 13 September, some restrictions will be eased across metro and regional Victoria – a critical first step towards recovery. However, the journey will be different for regional Victoria and Metropolitan Melbourne, and for different industries.
What the Premier outlined is a four-step process that will see a gradual reopening of businesses and eased social restrictions to eventually end in the final stage ‘COVID Normal’. Each of the four steps will be triggered by a certain date or threshold of case numbers but are not guarantees as Public Health advice will take priority over any progress and easing of restrictions.
Victorian businesses will be classed into four classes of restrictions, each with a reduced level of constraint:
- Heavily restricted
- Open with a COVIDSafe Plan
At the time of announcement, the state of Victoria had already been in the strict Stage 4 of lockdown for five weeks. While VCCI agrees with the need to get the virus under control, it cannot come at the expense of businesses and jobs. A balance must be struck to protect community health and protect the future of our economy and the greater nation’s, and we’ll continue working to get more businesses back to work, quickly.
VCCI chief executive Paul Guerra said, “Victoria’s economy is experiencing its biggest crisis in modern times with thousands of businesses unable to operate for most of this year, and the Government needs to allow Victorians to get back to work.”
“[VCCI] will continue to do whatever we can and work with both the Federal and State Government to not only deliver hope, but to deliver jobs, by keeping your business alive.”
From the introduction of Stage Four restrictions to Metropolitan Melbourne, each industry across the state was placed under a different level of restriction based on the health risk that industry poses. While those levels of restriction are not changing significantly, the process where an industry is moved to a lesser restriction has been revealed - something VCCI has called for.
While each stage presents a different level of restriction, these COVIDSafe principals will apply for all businesses at all stages:
- Physical distancing of 1.5 meters in the workplace
- Wearing of a facemask or covering
- Practice of good hygiene
- Keep records and act if staff become unwell
- Avoid enclosed spaces
- Adopt workforce bubbles
For clarity, the state government has presented what each level of restriction means for businesses:
Closed: No people allowed in the workplace (except for emergency maintenance and repairs).
Heavily restricted: Staff in permitted work premises must continue to work from home if they can, density quotas will apply if they are unable to. Staff levels will be reduced for some industries and the number of patrons inside a business will be limited.
Businesses who fall under this category will need to keep stringent records and act quickly if any staff member becomes unwell. As part of this process, managers and business owners will be required to ask staff to declare before each shift that they are free of symptoms, have not been in contact with a confirmed case and have not been directed to isolate.
Employers must also ensure that staff members are not working across other work sites.
Restricted: Workers should continue to work from home where possible and if they are in the office they will need to socially distance and abide by density quotas by making sure there are limits on the number of people working in the available space. Some sectors which were required to reduce their number of staff on site can now return to normal.
Business will be required to practice good hygiene standards with an auditing of cleaning schedules along with keeping records and acting quickly if staff become unwell. Staff will remain to be required to declare before each shift that they are free of symptoms.
While cross-site participation will be allowed, some businesses will need to create ‘workforce bubbles’ by limiting the number of staff members working across other work sites.
Open with a COVIDSafe Plan: Though working at home will not be compulsory, staff should continue to work from home wherever possible. Despite being the easiest level of restriction, density quotas will continue to apply.
This will also signal the first time staff will be allowed to carpool to work, however they must follow current public health directions when doing so.
Before any business in Victoria is able to return to the workplace, each must have completed their own COVIDSafe Plan to continue their operations.
As part of your businesses COVIDSafe plan, you must include:
- Your actions to help prevent the introduction of COVID-19 into the workplace
- The level of face-covering or personal protective equipment (PPE) required for your staff
- How you will prepare for, and respond to, a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19
- How you plan to meet all requirements set out by the state and federal health authorities
For more information, visit the COVID-19 (Coronavirus) resources for business page of the VCCI website and download the resources below.
Each of the four steps will bring a reduced level of restriction and offer greater freedoms to the public. As metropolitan Victoria is under tougher restrictions, the introduction of Stage One will only affect metropolitan Melbourne as nothing will change for regional Victoria.
Depending on the industry, a business may be able to move from the ‘closed’ restriction-level to ‘restricted’ or ‘open’ as the state progresses to a different step.
What is critical to remember is that not all businesses will follow the same timelines and not all businesses will reopen as quickly as their peers in other industries.
Consult the Victorian Government’s Roadmap to Reopening website for a detailed outline of when your businesses will progress with each step:
Coming into effect at 11:39pm on 13 September, few changes will be felt by Melbournians.
People will be allowed to leave home to exercise for two hours (increased from one), and Melbourne’s curfew will also be extended from 8:00pm to 9:00pm and continue to end at 5:00am.
There will also be greater social freedoms introduced such as the introduction of the ‘single-person bubble’, which allows a person who lives on their own to nominate one other person who can visit them.
Other than these few changes, the existing restrictions still apply for regional Victoria and the stage four restrictions for metro Melbourne.
While regional Victoria will enter step two effective from 14 September, metro Melbourne will only enter this phase on 28 September if the average daily case rate is reduced to 30 to 50 new cases of COVID-19 over a 14-day period.
This step will see the first time in months that Melbournians will be able to have a public gathering of five people (from a maximum of two households which must happen outdoors). Critically for many businesses and families will be the reopening of childcare centers and some senior and primary school grade levels (Prep to grade two and those doing VCE or VCAL).
While Melbournians will continue to be restricted to a 5km radius to their home and curfew, the ‘four reasons to leave home’ rule will be in effect once again:
- shop for food and necessary goods or services
- provide care, for compassionate reasons or to seek medical treatment
- outdoor exercise or recreation
- for permitted work or education
‘Essential’ retail stores will continue to be allowed to open with others being restricted to click-and-collect. Restaurants and cafes will also continue to be take-away or delivery only.
Manufacturing that was closed in step one can operate at a maximum of 90% of normal daily worker level.
Regional Victoria meanwhile will see fewer restrictions on the limits of the ‘four-reasons’ rule and the reopening of some businesses such as hairdressers.
In order for metropolitan Melbourne to enter stage three from 26 October, there must be less than a daily average of five reported cases of COVID-19 across the state over the two weeks prior and less than five of unknown transmission during that time.
This step will see the easing of restrictions for reasons for leaving home or distances travelled. There will also be the implementation of the ‘household bubble’ which will allow for more social visits within the home, but this will also have limitations on numbers.
While some year levels were allowed to return to the classroom under step two, step three will allow all school students to return.
Along with the ending of curfew, travel within Victoria will once again be allowed with some restrictions still in place for visiting areas with a higher restriction. Critically, accommodation will be able to reopen with caps per the social bubble. Retail will be able to open again along with hairdressers, however, personal care and beauty services will remain closed. Office and professional services providers will be able to the office, however, if employees can work from home they must.
Outdoor events will also be able to resume subject to pre-approved plans and hospitality venues will be allowed to open with a focus on outdoor dining and patron caps.
Regional Victoria will again see fewer restrictions on the limits of the ‘four-reasons’ rule along with the easing of restrictions around ‘visiting bubbles’.
It is important to distinguish that ‘step four’ is the final step of restrictions – not the end of all restrictions.
This final step has been proposed for 23 November. However, in order for this to happen, there will need to be zero reporting of confirmed cases of COVID-19 state-wide for a period of 14 days prior.
Step four will mean the end of restrictions on the reasons to leave home and the reopening of all retail, including beauty services, hospitality will be able to offer indoor dining with group limits and seated service, entertainment and cultural venues such as cinemas, performing arts and music venues will be able to re-open although there will still be some restrictions regarding capacity and social distancing.
Along with the hospitality and retail sectors, step four will mean many businesses such as museums and galleries, night clubs, gaming and casino venues, professional sport and racing will all finally be able to accept customers.
Once COVID-19 is successfully brought under control, with no reporting of cases and we can celebrate our defeat of the coronavirus, we can finally enter a new normal – COVID Normal.
While many businesses will be keen to go back to their worksite, the government have advised they are likely to introduce a ‘phased’ return to onsite work.
Though our state borders will be open and there will be no restriction of movement or work, some requirements may still be in place such as face coverings in some areas, mandatory COVID-19 testing and hygiene practices.
Many businesses and entire industries will be changed forever with new operating modules, shifted supply chains and different customers. The real estate and wedding industries for example will now be required to keep records of attendees.
It is important to acknowledge now that life and business has already changed and will not go back exactly to as it was before.
VCCI’s COVID-19 Resources page of the website is full of the latest information and guides to help you and your business navigate the COVID-19 pandemic. Make sure to take a look to see what resources are available to you.
For an in-depth look at the road to recovery and how it will affect your business, visit the Reopen, Restart and Recovery page of the VCCI website.
For information and assistance on any aspect of your employment obligations, the Victorian Chamber Workplace Relations Advice Line can help. Call 03 8662 5222 to speak to one of our experience staff.
Business mentoring program
The VCCI has partnered with the Victorian Government to deliver a business mentoring program to help small businesses navigate the economic challenges posed by COVID-19 restrictions and to help grow small businesses into the future.
Through this program, eligible business owners can receive one-on-one mentoring sessions with an experienced professional who will help them make informed decisions about the future of their business.
The program is open for applications now, click here to register your interest now.