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24 June 2020
By Dean Lawson
A development leader has urged Wimmera people to be vigilant in following a return to tougher COVID-19 guidelines to help any push for an early relaxation of conditions in regional areas.
Wimmera Development Association executive director Chris Sounness said continuation of negative test results was critical in making a case for the government to reopen the region before Melbourne.
He also urged people from across the Wimmera-Mallee to ‘think twice’ about travelling to Melbourne and if they did, to avoid high-risk areas.
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Mr Sounness made the call after Premier Daniel Andrews, in announcing a return to tougher household social-distancing rules, also suggested the government might consider reopening communities where there was an absence of community transition of the virus.
Mr Andrews said while the government might consider even tougher lockdowns for outbreak hotspots, the reverse might apply to relatively virus-free regions.
“We will – if and when it is safe – reopen those communities, perhaps with a different set of rules,” he said.
“We may well seek to open those communities up a little faster than would otherwise have been the case.”
Mr Andrews said earlier that medical experts had told the government the state was ‘at the crossroads’.
“Our case numbers have hit the highest they’ve been in more than two months. I know that’s not what people want to hear – but sadly, that is our reality,” he said.
“The experts tell us that, largely, the numbers are being driven by families – families having big get-togethers and not following the advice around distancing and hygiene.
“In fact, around half of our cases since the end of April have come from transmission inside someone’s home.
“You can see how this could happen. People feeling relaxed at home. Letting their guard down. Letting old habits creep back. But we are still in a pandemic – and people’s lives are still at risk.”
Under the latest changes, the number of visitors people can have at their home reduces to five. Outside the home, families and friends can meet in groups of up to 10.
The government has also delayed an increase to gathering limits in businesses and community facilities.
Until July 12, restaurants, hotels, auction and community halls, libraries, museums and places of worship will all stay at a maximum of 20 people in any one space.
Businesses such as gymnasiums, cinemas and theatres are allowed to open, but only with a maximum of 20 people.
Community sport for children and non-contact competition for adults can proceed as planned.
Mr Sounness said the hope was exemplary behaviour and negative test results in the region would lead to reward.
“The Premier has provided a window of opportunity in suggesting the maintenance of these stricter restrictions might be relatively short lived in the regions. That means Wimmera-Mallee businesses should remain prepared for changing circumstances and try to maintain a level of confidence in their markets,” he said.
“It is critically important to remember that what happens in our family and community gatherings can have a direct impact on business activity.
“So the message is sit tight, we’re in a good position in the Wimmera and southern Mallee and we don’t want to jeopardise any opportunities.”
Victorian Nationals leader Peter Walsh was more pointed in his response to the government decision, calling it a ‘city-centric shutdown’ that had ‘blindsided country businesses’.
“Many regional towns have never recorded a single positive coronavirus case, but Daniel Andrews has dragged us back into lockdown because of outbreaks in Melbourne,” he said.
“Our local restaurants, cafes, hotels and bars have hired and rostered extra staff, stocked the fridges and worked hard to make sure they are compliant with Victoria’s COVID-19 public health guidelines.
“But Mr Andrews is constantly shifting the goal posts and it’s costing local jobs.”
The Victorian Tourism Industry Council also expressed its dismay in the latest moves, but was also encouraged by the idea of a staggered easing of restrictions in regional areas.
The State Government has extended a State of Emergency until July 19, allowing it to continue enforcing physical-distancing and isolation requirements, as well as other Chief Health Officer directions.
Details on restriction levels are available online at www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorias-restriction-levels-covid-19.
• To yesterday, the number of official COVID-19 cases recorded across an area including much of western Victoria remained unchanged. The figures have been the same with no official active cases for more than a month.
The entire June 24, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!
The entire June 24, 2020 edition of AgLife is available online. READ IT HERE!