By Jackson Russell
UPDATE: Just a day after moving to the second step, Premier Daniel Andrews has announced regional Victoria, including Mitchell Shire and Macedon Ranges Shire, will move into the third step of the road map from 11.59pm tomorrow.
The announcement comes after regional Victoria recorded no new cases overnight, cutting the 14-day rolling average down to 3.6 with no mystery cases.
Under the third step, restrictions on reasons to leave home will be removed, public gatherings of up to 10 people and visits from up to five visitors from one nominated household will be allowed.
Travel throughout regional Victoria will also be allowed, in time for families to visit loved ones or go on holiday over the school holidays.
Hospitality businesses will also open up for predominately outdoor seated service, along with all retail including hairdressing and beauty therapy.
Mr Andrews said hospitality venues would have 1.5 metres between tables and larger venues would be able to seat up to 50 patrons per venue outdoors and 10 people per space indoors to a limit of two spaces.
Junior contact and non-contact sport can resume as well as non-contact sport for adults, all with gathering and density limits.
Real estate agents can resume auctions outdoors subject to gathering restrictions and hold private inspections by appointment.
All businesses across Victoria, both regional and metropolitan, will also be required to have a COVIDSafe plan, which will be enforceable from September 28.
Mr Andrews said the announcement was a testament to the determination of regional Victorians and good news for every Victorian.
“Because it shows – in very real terms – the strategy is working. The hard work of all Victorians is paying off,” he said.
“Today shows that slowly and surely, we can – we will – drive this thing down.”
Mr Andrews encouraged regional Victorians to catch up with family and friends outside.
“All the latest evidence says being outdoors reduces the risk. To that end, people will be able to gather in groups of 10 in outdoor public places, without a limit on the number of households,” he said.
From the North Central Review, September 15:
Following regional Victoria entering the second step of the State Government’s road map out of COVID-19 restrictions, Premier Daniel Andrews has tipped a move to the third step could take place within days.
The four reasons to leave the house remain in the second step, but public gatherings are now allowed between five people from a maximum of two households outdoors.
Single people living alone and single parents are also now allowed to have one nominated visitor in a ‘single person bubble’.
Mitchell Shire Council’s playgrounds and outdoor fitness equipment reopened, along with its resource recovery centres, while skate parks, basketball courts and public barbeques remain closed.
Existing arrangements remain in place for maternal and child health services, libraries, indoor pools and gyms.
The move to step two comes after Mitchell Shire reached no active COVID-19 cases last week.
When the Mitchell Shire, and the remainder of regional Victoria, move to the third step, it will mean the four reasons to leave the house will be removed, and people will start to see the reopening of dining, with restricted numbers, at hospitality businesses, and larger public gatherings.
Step three will occur when the daily average of new cases in regional Victoria is less than five and there have been no cases with an unknown source in the last 14 days. Regional Victoria’s 14-day average was sitting at 3.9 as of yesterday.
Under step three, outdoor contact and non-contact sport for people under 18 and non-contact sport for adults, within gathering and density limits, can resume, while outdoor skate parks and outdoor fitness for 10 people will reopen.
People will also be able to travel within regional Victoria and accommodation places will reopen, with caps per the social bubble.
After initially being placed in the last step, beauty therapy salons and pet groomers will also be able to reopen in the third step.
Whittlesea beauty therapy salon Beauty on Walnut was one of many relieved after being told they could open in the third step.
Owner Michele McKenna said it came as a massive relief to be able to open earlier than expected alongside hairdressers.
“We’ve been closed for nearly 20 weeks so by the time we open, I think we’ve gone through more than five months of closures,” she said.
The State Government also announced a $3 billion support package to help Victorian businesses survive through to the end of COVID-19 restrictions.
More than $1.1 billion in cash grants will support small and medium sized businesses that are most affected by coronavirus restrictions including $822 million as part of the third round of the Business Support Fund.
About 75,000 eligible businesses with payrolls up to $10 million will receive grants of $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 depending on their size.
Hospitality businesses will also receive support with a dedicated $251 million Licenced Venue Fund and the waiver of liquor licence fees in 2021.
Member for Euroa Steph Ryan said she was disappointed restrictions had not already been eased in regional communities with no active cases.
“Regional Victoria should not be treated as a single entity,” she said.
“The Premier’s plan does not take into account the vast distances between communities, or the difference between metropolitan Melbourne and regional communities.
“I would prefer to see an approach that enables COVID-free country areas to move to the last step on the government’s road map by region.”
Member for Yan Yean Danielle Green said regional Victoria’s numbers were good enough that another step could be taken as early as Wednesday.
“I think it’s better for regional Victoria to take the step together, especially coming up to school holidays,” she said.
“It means families in Mildura will be able to go to Warrnambool, catch up with loved ones they haven’t seen, go for a holiday, all the sort of things Melburnians are craving to do.
“Hopefully regional Victoria will really be able to open up and it will give great encouragement to Melbourne to stick to rules because it will show these harsh measures have worked and we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.”