THERE is a chance that regional Victoria will move to the ‘Last Step’ of COVID-19 restrictions, ahead of metro Melbourne, and well ahead of the present target date of November 23.

In other words, there are hopes of a return to indoor gym training up to a month earlier than expected, plus a resumption of church services, including 50 at funerals and weddings, and no restrictions on numbers seated in pubs and cafés.

The Premier Daniel Andrews raised the prospect of an announcement, later in October, of an earlier easing of restrictions after regional Victoria posted yet another day of zero new cases, driving active coronavirus numbers down to 20 across regional Victoria.

Sixteen of those 20 active cases are in three municipalities; Colac/Otway 10, Latrobe City 4 and Geelong 2.

Premier Andrews was asked at the daily COVID-19 briefing on Tuesday, September 22, why regional Victoria needed to wait for metro Melbourne to catch up so that the whole state could move to the Last Step on November 23.

“Is there a chance that it will have its own individual roadmap again for the next step?” asked a reporter

“I couldn’t rule that out because it will be based on the evidence and data but the point I would make to you is that moving, getting the whole state to one unified position is obviously very important, because there is movement, as Alan made the point, there are close contacts of cases in Melbourne that live in regional Victoria. There are the close contacts of people. There are active cases,” said Premier Andrews.

“And of course, we know that not everyone who’s symptomatic gets tested, so there will be more cases out there than we think. That’s just the nature of this virus.

“Getting everybody on an equal footing is important, but at the same time I think what we’ve shown in regional Victoria is taking two steps and being at step three, which is a different position to metropolitan Melbourne, that we are prepared to have the rules in regional Victoria that reflect the way the virus is actually presenting in regional Victoria,” he said.

“I’m not making announcements today about that, but we will always be guided by the data. And we’ll always be guided by the science of it, and what’s actually coming through, and what we think is safe.

“So, we’ve got regional Victoria in a different place now and that’s a testament to how hard regional Victorians have worked, but to be honest I cannot today, confirm for you, the announcements I will make on Sunday.

“And I’m not in a position, I think you’d understand, I’m not in a position to be able to announce today what will be decided and announced towards the end of October, because I simply don’t have enough data.”

So it was a hopeful response from the Premier but he did comment it was hard to say, with the nature of the virus and its infectivity, and with a two-week lag on the actual position, where the state and regional Victoria in particular would be in a month’s time.

Victorian Deputy Chief Health Officer Allen Cheng was also queried about an early move to the Last Step for regional Victoria, based on the low numbers and the fact that there would likely be no active cases in regional areas in a few week’s time.

He said the state is also monitoring 1173 close contacts, some in regional Victoria, that could result in regional outbreaks. He also ruled out locking down individual regional local government areas with outbreaks.

Key points of the Last Step include:

* No restrictions on leaving home

* Public gatherings: Up to 50 people outdoors

* Up to 20 visitors at home

* Hospitality open for seated service only

* All retail open

* Galleries, museums and other entertainment venues open with some restrictions.

Specifically, in ‘Exercise and Recreation’ there would be no exercise restrictions, all sports facilities will be open subject to safety measures. Organised contact sports can resume for all ages with limitations for spectators.

With regard to ‘Entertainment, Leisure and Travel’, indoor and outdoor venues can open with density quotient and patron caps. There would be a staged return to events with seated spectators. Large events would be treated on an individual basis, based on requirements and epidemiology at the time. All accommodation would be open with a COVID-safe plan.