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Josh Frydenberg dismisses extension to COVID-19 emergency payments as Melbourne exits lockdown

Treasurer Josh Frydenberg has dismissed calls for an extension of the federal government’s emergency COVID-19 payment.

Speaking to reporters on Friday after a two-hour meeting with state and territory treasurers, Mr Frydenberg said NSW and Victoria would work on a “nationally consistent approach to business support in the event of a lockdown”.

Mr Frydenberg emphasised the support measure was only available when Melbourne was considered a national hotspot.

“It’s the state governments that make the decisions about lockdowns,” he said. “About which sectors are affected, which parts of the state are affected, and the level of restrictions that remain.

“We made it very clear that we would provide income support. But it would be done so in a way that was consistent with the commonwealth hotspot definition, and, as you know, that commonwealth hotspot for the metropolitan Melbourne area was lifted, consistent with the announcement of the lifting of more broadly the restrictions in Victoria.”

The Treasurer revealed that approximately 50,000 applications have been made for the payment, and around 34,000 processed and paid.

Earlier on Friday, Victoria’s Acting Premier James Merlino thanked all Victorians after the state recorded no new local coronavirus cases on Friday as Melbourne emerged from a two-week lockdown.

Queensland and NSW also recorded no new local coronavirus cases on Friday after a Melbourne couple travelled through the states before testing positive, sparking health alerts.

Victoria’s health department returned just over 17,600 tests in the 24 hours to midnight, which showed just one new overseas case in hotel quarantine.

There are now 75 active cases across the state, down from 78 on Thursday.

It marks the first day without a local case of COVID-19 since 24 May, when a family tested positive for the virus and ended the state’s 86-day streak without community transmission.

The latest outbreak spread through the local government area of Whittlesea, north of the city, and the seaside suburb of Port Melbourne.

Mr Merlino said Friday was a good day for Victoria.

“It is good news and news I know everyone in Victoria wanted to hear,” he told reporters.

“To get to zero cases today is a terrific outcome but it is nowhere near over.”

He thanked all Victorians who had followed the rules to get to zero cases but urged people not to be complacent.

“It is a terrific outcomes but nowhere near over,” he said.

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the week ahead “probably won’t be all zero cases”, citing the thousands of close contacts of infected cases who are continuing to isolate at home.

“Some of whom will become positive. That’s not a concern as they quarantined for the entire (infectious) period,” he said.

Under the new restrictions for Melbourne, masks remain mandatory both indoors and outdoors and people must stay within 25km of their homes unless working or studying, caregiving or getting a COVID-19 vaccine.

A ban on home gatherings remains in effect, but up to 10 people can meet outdoors, students can return to schools, retail can reopen and hospitality venues can resume seated service.

Restrictions have eased further in regional Victoria, with more industries to reopen, two visitors allowed at homes and masks only compulsory indoors.

“What the changes mean, in essence, is more people will be moving around the city. More people will be gathering outside, more dining in,” Mr Merlino said.

“People will be getting married and doing the things that they love. It is a great thing.”

But the acting premier warned the continual easing of restrictions would be reliant on people getting tested “straight away” if they have COVID-19 symptoms.

“If you are watching now and have a cough or runny nose, you know what you have to do,” Mr Merlino said.

Prof Sutton added that Victorians will probably need to get tested multiple time through winter.

“That is the only way we can be sure we know where coronavirus is and run it out of the state.”

Meanwhile, authorities are continuing to investigate how four members of a Reservoir family with no known links to current outbreaks tested positive for the virus.

Prof Sutton said genomic testing has found they have the Kappa strain of the virus, which is consistent with the outbreak in the nearby City of Whittlesea.

He said blood testing would be done on some of the family members to determine when they contacted the virus.

The family’s close contacts are self-isolating, with some having tested negative.

Investigations are also continuing into a Victorian couple who travelled through NSW to Queensland before testing positive.

Several supermarkets, petrol stations and a McDonalds in Thomastown have been listed as exposure sites overnight, while wastewater detections of the virus were reported in the Pascoe Vale, Scoresby and Vermont areas.

No new cases in Queensland

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer Dr Jeannette Young on Friday said all close contacts of the infected Victorian couple who drove to the state had so far returned negative COVID-19 tests.

“We’ve done a lot of work going through all of the close contacts, so we now have 316 close contacts of the lady and her husband who travelled up from Victoria. And we have back on that, 41 test results that are negative,” she told reporters.

Friday’s figures showed Queensland had no new coronavirus cases either in the community or in hotel quarantine, with almost 6,000 tests carried out in the past 24 hours and more than 11,000 vaccinations given.

The woman left Melbourne with her husband on 1 June, when the city was in lockdown, and tested positive at the end of a road trip through NSW and into Queensland. 

Her husband has now tested positive as well, although it appears they are late in their infection period.

They are known to have visited sites in Goondiwindi, Toowoomba and the southern Sunshine Coast.

It remains unclear how they caught the virus.

According to Queensland health authorities, the couple did not apply for a travel exemption to enter the state.

Queensland’s Deputy Police Commissioner Peter Martin said on Friday police were yet to interview the Victorian couple in relation to possible criminal charges but hoped to do so in coming days.

Mr Martin said police had so far found five people from Victoria who have illegally entered Queensland. They had been issued infringement notices of $4,003, he said.

Queensland Health Minister Yvette D’Ath said people from Victoria crossing the border without an exemption will be “found”.

“You cannot come into this state if you are from a hotspot and put our state at risk,” she said. “And we will make sure that you will face the consequences if you do that.”

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