‘Obvious in retrospect’: Rules for Victorian couples who live apart flipped

It was "pretty damned obvious in retrospect" that couples shouldn't be banned from visiting one another, chief health officer Brett Sutton has acknowledged.

Hours earlier, the Andrews government had warned partners who lived separately not to visit each other under the tough new 'stay-at-home' rules or face $1600 fines.

But Dr Sutton said it was never his intention to stop couples from seeing one another.

"We have no desire to penalise individuals who are staying with or meeting their partners if they don’t usually reside together. We’ll be making an exemption," he announced on Twitter at 5pm.

Premier Daniel Andrews and Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on Wednesday.Credit:AAP

Speaking on ABC's Radio National, he said policy was moving rapidly and had unintended consequences.

"I think it's an issue of trying to work this out in a really rapid time, we're seeing things change every day in terms of this epidemic. We're implementing policy and legal directions that have never been done in this country previously.

"Once it's written down [in law] and gets put out there, people come back with things that seem pretty damned obvious in retrospect."

Police Minister Lisa Neville welcomed the "common sense" news on Wednesday, adding Victoria Police was unclear on how to enforce the rule.

"This is good outcome for the community. Thank you."

Just a day earlier, she wrote: "You cannot visit your partner for social reasons."

"I know it does seem very harsh. But it is part of the directive of the chief health officer based on how this virus can easily spread moving from household to household."

Health Minister Jenny Mikakos on Wednesday afternoon walked back the government's hard line.

"I don't believe it was a mistake. These are very complex matters to take what is typical human behaviour and to codify that into a legal set of rules," Ms Mikakos told ABC radio.

"This is not intended to impact on people's relationships, we know that our human relationships are really important for all of us.

"In terms of that strict criteria, if that needs to be tweaked in the directives, then it will be."

It was only on Wednesday morning that Premier Daniel Andrews said visiting a partner socially was the wrong thing to do.

"What I'm saying to you is: that's not work, that's not care-giving, that's not medical care, that's not shopping for the things you need when you need them, and it does not comply with the rules. So people should not do that. If you don't need to do it, don't do it."

A spokeswoman from the Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS) had on Wednesday warned: "You shouldn't be physically intimate with people you're not living with, even if they are your partner."

The stay-at-home rules came in this week as part of the state's 'stage three' response to contain the coronavirus – which ban non-essential gatherings of more than two people.

You can still meet one person and go for a walk, for example, but you must stay 1.5 metres apart.

Shopping for necessities, medical care, exercise outside, or attending work or school if you cannot attend remotely are allowed.

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