Builders and tradespeople who conduct outdoor maintenance, repairs and home renovations on occupied premises in Victoria will be able to operate again from Friday morning after the government in that state adjusted COVID lockdown rules.

But indoor work on occupied premises in Melbourne at least will continue to be restricted to emergency work only.

And it is understood that a similar restriction will apply for indoor work on occupied premises in regional areas – though there is uncertainty over that point.

On Wednesday, Victorian Acting Premier James Merlino announced that the state’s circuit-breaker lockdown will be extended with modifications for another seven days.

Modified restrictions will remain in place until 11:59pm on Thursday June 10.

For the building sector, the most important change relates to outdoor maintenance and construction.

Under current restrictions, construction, renovation, repair or maintenance work is allowed on new building sites or on vacant premises but is restricted to emergency work only where premises are occupied.

From Friday, however, services that operate solely outdoors will be able to operate on occupied premises provided they hold an ABN and are able to maintain physical distancing at all times.

This includes services related to:

  • Outdoor maintenance, repairs, cleaning and other building work.
  • Home renovations and installations (outdoor only)
  • Home solar panel installations (only for outdoor work or in roof cavities with external access).

Only five workers plus a supervisor will be allowed on these sites.

Landscaping and gardening sole operators have also been added to the list of approved workers and will now be able to operate (outdoors only) under the above conditions.

At least in the Melbourne metropolitan area, however, current restrictions relating to indoor work on occupied premises will remain in place.

It is also understood that such restrictions will remain in place in regional areas, although there is uncertainty around this point.

More broadly, the level of restrictions will be modified and will vary between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.

In the Melbourne metropolitan area, the five reasons to leave home will remain the same but the distance which people will be able to travel for shopping or exercise will be extended from five kilometres to ten kilometres.

Students in Year 11 and 12 will return to face-to-face learning.

However, the banning of private or public gatherings will remain (indoors or outdoors) (intimate partner visits/single bubble permitted) whilst masks will need to be worn both indoors and outdoors when leaving home.

In regional Victoria, a more substantive easing is anticipated.

This, however, remains dependent upon the outcome of continued contact tracing and testing over the next 24 hours (from Wednesday) to confirm that this change can go ahead.

Assuming that this is the case, restrictions in regional Victoria will be as follows:

  • There will be no restrictions on reasons to leave home.
  • All students will return to face-to-face schooling.
  • Public gatherings in public places will be increased to ten people.
  • Restaurants and cafés can reopen to a maximum of 50. Retail, beauty and personal care, entertainment venues and community facilities will also open in line with density limits.
  • Religious ceremonies and funerals will be capped at 50, weddings at ten.
  • Work or study should still be done at home where possible. Offices will be capped at the greater of 50 per cent or 20 people.
  • (As per Melbourne,) visitors to the home are not allowed.
  • Regional Victorians will be able to travel in regional Victoria. Melburnians will not.
  • Masks will still need to be worn indoors except when at home and outdoors where distances of 1.5 meters cannot be maintained.

A full table of restrictions can be seen here.

In a statement, Merlino said the new variant of the virus is spreading more quickly and is more contagious compared with previous variants.

Whereas the virus previously was being transmitted primarily by those spending minutes or hours with people they know, the new variant is being spread through simple fleeting contact with strangers.

Given Australia’s low levels of vaccination coverage, there are concerns that the virus could spread quickly if not contained.

(Currently, Victoria has 60 local active cases and more than 350 exposure sites).

“The best way to stop the virus is vaccination. But as we know, with only two per cent of the population fully vaccinated – if we let this thing run then cases will explode,” Merlino said.

“If that happens, it’s our most vulnerable – our parents and grandparents, Victorians with underlying conditions or compromised immunity – who will pay the price.”

Master Builders Association of Victoria Chief Executive Officer Rebecca Casson welcomed the decision to lift outdoor restrictions but called for support for those affected by the continued indoor limitations.

“Master Builders Victoria welcomes the State Government’s decision today to allow outdoor building and maintenance works to recommence in occupied premises, a positive move forward for thousands of small building and construction industry businesses,” Casson said.

“However, our thoughts and efforts are focussed on small scale construction including those mum and dad builders and tradespeople with stalled indoor renovations projects who are still not permitted to work – including in regional Victoria.

“These small businesses are the lifeblood of the Victorian economy and have received no financial support, which is now vital – especially since the JobKeeper program ceased operating. We hope that the Federal Government will consider supporting these workers’ wages during their time of need.

“We know our members are doing everything they can to keep people employed – including apprentices – but many cannot hold on for much longer – some not even during the next 7 days of lockdown.”