Melburnians are expected to flock to Victoria’s regions for an unofficial long weekend as statewide travel resumes and more COVID-19 restrictions ease.
The metro-regional border will reopen from 6pm on Friday, ahead of the state hitting its 80 per cent full vaccination target, paving the way for a mass exodus from the city.
It’s feared the late afternoon rules change could cause traffic chaos, with thousands fleeing the city for the unofficial Melbourne Cup long weekend.
But Chief Commissioner Shane Patton has indicated those planning to get a head start might not be penalised.
“Rather than everyone heading off … at the six o’clock starting line, if it was a fraction earlier we’re not going to be very worried about that,” he told Melbourne’s 3AW radio on Thursday.
He says police will instead use discretion as long as people only leave an hour or so beforehand.
Premier Daniel Andrews, however, has asked Victorians to follow the rules right up until the last minute.
“It’s got to change at some point,” he told reporters.
When restrictions ease at 6pm on Friday, masks no longer need to be worn outdoors, indoor entertainment venues, gyms and retail can reopen for fully vaccinated patrons, and capacity limits increase for restaurants, pubs and cafes.
With greater capacity and intrastate travel allowed, tourism-starved regional operators are preparing for a busy weekend.
Bells Beach Brewing co-owner Adam Smith expects his Torquay and Geelong venues to be full and says a group of 30-odd people from Melbourne are making the trip.
“It will almost be like a teary reunion on Saturday when they come in,” he said.
Meanwhile, Victoria is also tightening medical exemption rules for COVID-19 vaccinations from 6pm on Friday, in a crackdown on people doctor shopping and pressuring GPs.
The state recorded its deadliest day of the pandemic’s third wave on Thursday, with a further 25 COVID-19 deaths and 1923 local cases reported.