One giant leap for regional Victoria

Heston Watkins, 3, enjoyed being able to play at the park again, following an easing of restrictions in regional Victoria.

Being part of regional Victoria allowed Mitchell Shire residents to take a big step towards normality last week, progressing to the third step of the State Government’s roadmap out of COVID-19 restrictions.

Premier Daniel Andrews made the announcement on Tuesday last week, just more than 24 hours after regional Victoria had moved to the second step.

Melburnians are still in the first step.

The decision was made after regional Victoria passed the ‘trigger point’ of having a 14-day average of less than five new cases of COVID-19 and no cases from mystery sources.

The third step is perhaps the biggest step in the government’s roadmap, allowing public gatherings, home visits and the reopening of hospitality and retail businesses.

However, regional Victoria must wait for Melbourne to catch up before it can progress to the last step before the ‘COVID normal’.

The final of the four steps will not be taken before November 23 and only when there have been no new cases of the virus in the community for more than 14 days.

Premier Daniel Andrews said the announcement was a testament to the determination of regional Victorians.

Mr Andrews implored Melburnians not to travel into regional communities unless it was for one of four permitted reasons.

“We are almost there. Today is proof positive that with purpose and patience, we can see this thing through,” he said.

“And when we do, we can find a COVID normal where life looks close to how we remember it. We can do this.”

Leader of the Nationals and deputy opposition leader Peter Walsh said every country Victorian had been forced to make ‘massive sacrifices’ to take the third step and many businesses would continue to pay for the issues in managing hotel quarantine.

“Despite very low case numbers across regional Victoria, dining restrictions will force our local cafes and restaurants to make tough decisions on whether it’s viable to open after months of little to no income,” he said.

“Families will still have to make the painful choice of deciding which loved ones can attend weddings, funerals and religious ceremonies and who will miss out, under severe restrictions on public gatherings.”

Rural Councils Victoria, which represents communities in 38 rural council areas, welcomed the Premier’s announcement.

Rural Councils Victoria chair Cr Mary-Ann Brown said the step was a great move in the right direction.

“This latest announcement will allow rural Victorians to begin to get back to business and to a new kind of normal,” she said.

“I was absolutely delighted at what the Premier said, especially in saying well done to rural and regional Victorians and the tremendous work they have done.

“We have been advocating for rural Victoria to be treated differently to metropolitan Melbourne and regional cities on the basis that there were few or no cases in most rural municipalities and this announcement delivers on that.”

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