COVID-19 infections have slowed to a trickle in Melbourne but the city of five million remains in hard lockdown, with people only allowed outdoors to work, exercise, buy essential goods or provide care for family members.

Victoria state sports minister Martin Pakula announced on Tuesday that 500 owners and connections would be allowed to attend Moonee Valley for the Cox Plate on Saturday along with about 750 staff, officials and media.

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Within hours, Pakula announced on social media that the owners and connections would no longer be permitted following a backlash on social media, with politicians and pundits accusing the government of giving special treatment to the industry.

"I understand that people were extremely unhappy," he told state radio on Wednesday.

"I don't shy away from the fact I was the one pushing and proposing it, but it was a mistake ... I was made, very quickly, aware of the reaction of the community.

"I spoke to the Mooney Valley Racing Club and am happy to put my hand up and say 'my bad' and the decision was reversed last night."

Professional sport has been largely shut down in Victoria since a second wave of COVID-19 hit the southern state mid-year but horse racing has continued without crowds at racetracks.

The industry is hoping officials will ease COVID-19 restrictions to allow limited crowds to attend next month's A$8 million Melbourne Cup, Australia's most famous horserace, which usually draws more than 90,000 to Flemington Racecourse.

($1 = 1.4186 Australian dollars) (Reporting by Ian Ransom; Editing by Michael Perry)

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