Australia

Victoria again records no new local COVID-19 cases as government announces business relief

Victoria has recorded zero new locally acquired cases of COVID-19 as the government allots $143 million in relief for businesses unable to operate on Valentine’s Day due to the state’s five-day lockdown.

There were no local or overseas-acquired cases of COVID-19 diagnosed on Saturday in Victoria, with more than 10,300 tests conducted.

Twenty-five active cases remain in the state.

It was the second consecutive day without a local virus case in Victoria after three people in the same family were recorded COVID-positive on Thursday.

Jobs Minister Martin Pakula on Sunday told reporters that the state government would distribute $143 million in support to businesses affected by the state’s third lockdown, which ended on Thursday.

This included payments of $2000 to 50,000 businesses to compensate for their inability to trade over the five-day period, which coincided with Valentine’s Day, Lunar New Year and Australian Open tennis matches.

He said the payments would target businesses directly affected such as restaurants, florists, live entertainers and accommodation providers.

They would be available for firms with an annual payroll of up to $3 million.

Additional payments of $3000 would be made available to licensed hospitality venues which have previously received support via the state’s assistance fund, while $16 million would be handed to accommodation providers.

An additional 50,000 vouchers of $200 would be made available for accommodation venues in both regional Victoria and Greater Melbourne.

“They are the ones most profoundly affected by the lockdown and they are the ones we are targeting with this support,” Mr Pakula said.

“I don’t like to put arbitrary time constraints on myself but we would hope to have the licensed hospitality venue fund money out over the next week.

“The business grant, the business support fund will depend on how quickly applications come in but there is a bit of due diligence that must be done.”

SBS News

Mr Pakula said the Victorian government had now spent $6 billion on economic support over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic.

Ahead of Monday’s vaccination rollout in Victoria, 20 protesters were arrested in Melbourne after rallying in opposition to mandatory inoculation.

Fifteen of the people arrested on Saturday were fined and five others were charged with offences including resisting arrest.

COVID-19 vaccines are not mandatory in Australia.

Protests were also held in Sydney, Cairns, Coffs Harbour and Albany.

Before the rallies, Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley told reporters that the Holiday Inn Melbourne Airport cluster was “far from being over” but the numbers indicated it was “increasingly under control”.

Some 22 cases have been traced back to a family of three staying on the third floor of the Holiday Inn who caught the UK strain of the virus.

Authorities believe the outbreak began when one of the family members used a nebuliser medical device that caused the virus to spread through the air.

Austin Health, Monash Health and Western Health hospitals will distribute Victoria’s first doses of the Pfizer vaccine from Monday.

Mr Foley said workers who are most likely to come into direct contact with COVID-positive people will be first in line for the jab.

This includes hotel quarantine workers, airport and port workers, high-risk frontline health staff and aged care staff and residents.

The federal government has allocated 12,000 doses of the Pfizer vaccine to Victoria in the first week of the vaccination program.

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