The Andrews government is facing three class-action lawsuits over the lockdowns imposed during Melbourne’s second wave of coronavirus, with potentially thousands of plaintiffs seeking damages.
Victoria reported 42 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday and eight people died of Covid in the preceding 24 hours.
This week a Melbourne legal firm, Carbone Lawyers, filed a claim on behalf of workers who had lost income or suffered psychological damage due to strict social distancing laws. The managing partner, Tony Carbone, told Guardian Australia more than 100 plaintiffs had signed on prior to Wednesday.
“The office has been inundated today,” he said. “We have even fielded inquiries from people who are incarcerated, ringing and saying because of the second lockdown they have been locked in their rooms – the psychological damage that would cause.”
The Carbone-led action alleges the Victorian government’s mishandling of the hotel quarantine program led to the second wave of infections and subsequent lockdowns.
“In terms of proven negligence, I think it’s going to be pretty straightforward, I’m just going to rely on their own doctors and epidemiologists,” Carbone said. The lead plaintiff is Jordan Roberts, a 21-year-old who lost work at a Tullamarine warehouse in August after stage four lockdowns were imposed.
The Sydney-based law firm Quinn Emanuel Urquhart & Sullivan launched a class action against the state government last month on similar grounds, representing Melbourne businesses closed or had their income seriously damaged following the state’s second wave.
A Mornington Peninsula cafe owner and Liberal party member Michelle Loielo, has also mounted a legal challenge against the Victoria government’s coronavirus curfew, arguing it is putting her small business at risk.
The premier, Daniel Andrews, said on Wednesday he “simply can’t be drawn on those sorts of matters” when asked about the class actions. It would be inappropriate for him to comment, he said.
From midnight on Wednesday regional Victoria will progress to the third step in the state’s recovery roadmap, as Melbourne met the threshold to move to step two.
Wednesday’s numbers moved the seven-day average to 49.6. As it is now below 5o average daily cases, the city meets the threshold required to move to the second step of reopening at the end of the month.
But Andrews confirmed the 28 September date would not be moved forward.
“The fact that we are in the 30 to 50 band should be a point of pride, absolutely. But we are making an assessment … about being in the [band] not just for a day, but for a decent period, for a significant period, then we’ll be able to make that call,” the Labor leader said.
Wednesday marked the first time in months Victoria has dropped below 1,000 active cases.
As of midnight on Wednesday, regional Victoria will begin to open up. Groups of up to 10 people can meet outside, hospitality venues will be allowed some dine-in service and the staggered return of students to classrooms will begin for term four.
This easing of restriction has necessitated the tightening of the “ring of steel” around Melbourne, with long lines of cars stretching back from key checkpoints around the city.
Victoria police were announcing increased penalties for unlawfully leaving Melbourne on Wednesday.
“They’ll talk about checkpoints that will be permanent. They’re talking about a high percentage of cars that will be stopped. It’s almost certain that if you think you’re going to break these rules, A, you’ll be in a queue for a fair while, and, B, you will get asked to demonstrate why you’re travelling to regional Victoria,” Andrews said.
Andrews announced that from Thursday elective surgeries in regional hospitals would return to 75% capacity and Melbourne hospital would meet this target on 28 September – signalling the easing of pressure on the Victorian hospital system.
The health minister, Jenny Mikakos, said hospitals would slowly build their capacity, returning to 100% when the state moved to the last step of the roadmap, notionally on 23 November.
“This timetable replicates the road map and it’s been developed in consultation with our public health experts,” she said. “We want to make sure that there’s the capacity there to respond to outbreaks, whether it’s in particular aged care outbreak or an outbreak in the hospital itself or other significant outbreaks in the community.”
Outpatient and dental appointments would also be increasing capacity in the coming weeks and return to treating non-urgent patients.
The premier flagged that there may be funding for a surgery “blitz” in the future to help work through the backlog of elective procedures.
Victoria police were involved in a number of controversial incidents over the weekend, including a mentally ill man who appeared to have his head stomped on by an officer while being arrested. Earlier this month it was alleged there was a “violent assault” of an Indigenous man who was left with a broken arm after police spear-tackled him off his bike as he rode to work.
The police revealed on Tuesday that new officer training on how to deal with people suffering mental health crises had been delayed due to bushfires and Covid-19. The premier said the police force was aiming to restart these programs as soon as possible.
“No one takes any joy in cancelling those sorts of programs,” he said. “I would think that the mere fact that the program training was scheduled and funded by the government, gives you a sense that there’s an acknowledgment in Victoria police … that having the best understanding of how people who are in absolute crisis will perhaps act [is important].”
Andrews acknowledged that not every police incident in recent days was due to citizens not cooperating with police or providing their details and that matters of inappropriate use of force should be fully investigated.
“I don’t think there are many leaders in this country who have acknowledged the abject failures in our mental health system more clearly and more impactfully than I have than the government I lead. A royal commission that’s on at the moment will give us the answers we need and a massive reform agenda.”