Slow steps forward

By Jackson Russell

Premier Daniel Andrews’ road map for regional Victorians to exit COVID-19 restrictions will begin on Monday.

The plan, announced on Sunday, includes four steps before reaching a ‘COVID normal’ no earlier than November 23.

Due to a lower concentration of COVID-19 cases, regional Victoria, including Mitchell and Macedon Ranges shires, will move to the second step on Monday, two weeks before Melbourne.

The plan comes after the latest COVID-19 figures show there are eight active cases in the Mitchell Shire.

As part of the second step, the four reasons to leave home will still apply and people will still be encouraged to work from home, but up to five people will be able to gather in outdoor public spaces from a maximum of two households.

Outdoor playgrounds and outdoor pools can reopen from Monday.

People living alone or single parents will be able to nominate one visitor to create a bubble, much like what already exists for intimate partners.

Hospitality businesses will remain open for take-away and delivery only.

All students in regional Victoria will return to onsite learning between October 12 and 16.

Regional Victoria will be able to move to the third step when the daily number of cases in regional Victoria is less than five, an average over a 14-day period, and there have also been zero cases with an unknown source.

Under the third step, there will be no restrictions on reasons to leave home, and public gatherings of up to 10 people will be allowed outdoors while five visitors will be allowed from a nominated household.

Also as part of step three, hospitality will begin to reopen with predominantly outdoor dining, while real estate agents will be able to hold outdoor auctions with limits.

All junior sport will be able to resume outdoors while only non-contact adult sport will resume.

Regional Victorians will be able to travel across all areas in step three.

Regional Victoria will join Melbourne in taking the last step after November 23, and when the state has had no new cases for 14 days.

Hospitality business will re-open for seated service, while other entertainement venues will open with restrictions. Beauty salons will also be able to reopen in the last step.

Mr Andrews said he understood some people may be disappointed by the slow and steady approach.

“I understand there’ll be some people who’ll be disappointed, those who wanted more and sooner. But these are the steady and sustainable steps that our health experts tell us will see us out of this – safely,” he said.

The Nationals leader Peter Walsh said the government’s approach would kill jobs, businesses and regional economies.

Opposition leader Michael O’Brien said many businesses would be forced to keep their doors closed for weeks, with no promise of a date they could reopen.

“Families, businesses and communities have done the right thing but will continue to live under the strictest lockdown in the nation because of the failures of Daniel Andrews’ government,” he said.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said businesses had high hopes but had been left frustrated.

“Victoria’s economy is experiencing its biggest crisis in modern times with thousands of businesses unable to operate for most of this year, and the government needs to allow Victorians to get back to work while managing the health crisis. This cannot continue to be a choice of health over economy,” he said.

Real Estate Institute of Victoria chief executive Gil King slammed the announcement, saying private inspections were ‘far safer’ than a trip to the shops and called on landlords to stop negotiating rent reductions.