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    Rob Gersch.

Wimmera councils add pressure to reopen regions as Melbourne COVID-19 cases spike


Coronavirus-free councils in the Wimmera are echoing a statewide call from municipal leaders asking the State Government to consider easing restrictions in rural and regional areas.    

A surge in active cases in Melbourne has led the government to embark on a testing blitz across COVID-19 hotspots in 10 city suburbs. 

Authorities recorded 75 active cases on Monday, the highest in more than two months, and 64 yesterday. 

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Rural Councils Victoria, RCV, is pressuring the State Government to consider easing restrictions in local government areas that remain coronavirus-free. 

RCV chair Mary-Ann Brown said the organisation wrote a letter to the government last week and would follow-up again after July 12 if there were no further announcements. 

Wimmera municipal leaders are backing RCV as residents and businesses in their shires begin to feel a greater impact from re-tightening restrictions. 

Hindmarsh Shire mayor Rob Gersch, West Wimmera mayor Bruce Meyer and Yarriambiack mayor Graeme Massey said there could also be merit in freeing up more cross-border movement.

This came after South Australian member for Mount Gambier Troy Bell recommended his government consider extending travel arrangements permitted between border communities further into western Victoria.

But as Victoria records daily spikes in COVID-19 cases, South Australia has scrapped its plan to reopen its state borders on July 20. 

Cr Gersch said with Hindmarsh Shire yet to record any cases it would be unreasonable to retain current restrictions. 

“The shires in the non-virus areas feel quite strongly we shouldn’t be victimised for the areas that are affected, such as the hotspots in Melbourne,” he said. 

“I think if people followed health regulations and did the right thing it would be a great opportunity.”

Cr Gersch said if the South Australian government extended travel conditions it would assist people who relied on businesses on both sides of the border. 

“Opening the border would be viable. In Nhill we have a lot of people who travel to Bordertown for the vet, dentist and machinery dealerships,” he said. 

Room to move

Cr Meyer said he supported easing restrictions across rural councils in Victoria.  

“Everyone is asking why regional areas are still in lockdown in the same manner as the city when cases of COVID-19 are rare here,” he said.  But he added although people relied on crossing the South Australian border for services in his shire, extending travel conditions would be difficult for authorities to manage under latest restrictions. 

“We have 250 kilometres of state boundary – for the people who live close-by the border, Naracoorte, Bordertown and Penola are their service centres,” he said.

“To form a travel bubble 100km either side of the border so you can travel freely – that would be a good thing. 

“But I think for people trying to administer that sort of thing it would be an absolute nightmare and you wouldn’t want someone with the virus to enter a community.”  

Yarriambiack council recorded one COVID-19 case in late March and has since remained free of the virus. 

Cr Massey said there needed to be more consideration for rural areas that were completely COVID-19 free. 

“We can’t keep on going how we’re going – if the middle of July comes and there’s little change in the number of cases, I think some businesses will go under,” he said.

“They’re coping at the moment, but then JobKeeper is due to run out at the end of September.

“Our shire would be in favour of less restrictions and maybe consideration given to places where there is no coronavirus to resume a better and more relaxed lifestyle than what we’ve got.”

Hotspots lockdown

Premier Daniel Andrews has announced a return to stage-three restrictions for people living in COVID-19 hotspots in Melbourne suburbs.

From 11:59pm tonight, postcodes 3038, 3064, 3047, 3060, 3012, 3032, 3055, 3042, 3021, 3046 will return to stay-at-home restrictions until at least July 29. None are in regional Victoria.

Mr Andrews said for people living outside the locations, there were only four reasons to enter the ‘hotspot zones’ – shopping for food and supplies, care and caregiving, exercise, and study or work – if people were unable to do it from home. Businesses and facilities in these areas that have been able to recently reopen will again be restricted and cafes and restaurants will again only be open for take-away and delivery services.

The entire July 1, 2020 edition of The Weekly Advertiser is available online. READ IT HERE!