By Kirra Grimes

NON-ESSENTIAL travel from metro to regional Victoria will remain off the cards for now, as the state government pledges to protect the “hard-won gains” of country communities in combatting the COVID-19 crisis.

Announcing a further easing of restrictions for regional Victoria from 11.59pm on Sunday, October 18, Premier Daniel Andrews confirmed the “ring of steel” around metropolitan Melbourne would be strengthened, with additional checkpoints and more cars stopped, to ensure drivers had a permitted reason to travel.

“We want people in Melbourne to stay in Melbourne,” Andrews said, warning that although case numbers had been declining – with just two new cases recorded across the state on Sunday and five on Monday – the “wildly infectious” nature of the coronavirus meant recent successes could quickly be undone.

Melburnians are currently able to travel to regional Victoria for work, medical care, caregiving, to visit an intimate partner, or to buy necessary goods and services if regional retailers are closer to their house than metro.

Fire prevention and travel from metro Melbourne

From midnight this Wednesday, Melburnians will also be able to travel to undertake “fire preparedness activities” at second properties in regional Victoria, by obtaining written formal approval from the council where their second property is located.

Previously, only Melburnians who’d been issued a legally binding Fire Prevention Notice by a regional council were allowed to travel for this reason.

A South Gippsland Shire Council spokesperson said yesterday that despite the state government’s latest announcement, “key information has not changed in relation to metropolitan Melbourne property owners accessing properties in South Gippsland”.

Melburnians will not be able to request approval to visit their South Gippsland properties for fire preparation – they will only be permitted to travel for this reason if council officers identify that their property presents a threat to life or property from bushfire, and issues a Fire Prevention Notice allowing “adequate time” for works to be completed.

“There are many local slashing and gardening businesses that provide grass cutting services in the local area that can assist with works in the absence of the requirement to travel,” the spokesperson said.

Council officers will undertake fire prevention inspections in South Gippsland from the end of November, as this is the period where the greatest risk of fire is present.

Those issued with a Fire Prevention Notice will not require a permit to travel from metropolitan Melbourne to regional Victoria as the Fire Prevention Notice is evidence of the reason for travel.

Bass Coast Shire Council was still putting arrangements in place when contacted for comment yesterday, but a spokesperson said their customer service team was already getting “hammered” with phone enquiries about the approvals process.

Regional hospitality businesses can host up to 40 customers indoors and up to 70 outdoors

Korumburra Middle Hotel owner and San Remo Hotel manager Ben ‘Fish’ Fisher welcomed the announcement, but said all hospitality venues “obviously would’ve liked to open up a bit more.”

“We feel we’re providing a COVID-safe environment, so it’s pretty tough,” he said.

“Especially in Korumburra, we haven’t got that set up for outside dining, and the weather’s so unpredictable anyway, it’s pretty hard to do anything.

“And it’s not like the fixed costs go away while we’re shut down. We’ve got electricity bills, insurance, computer software, repairs, maintenance, equipment leases, mortgages… it all builds up.”

Fish’s two pubs could easily fit 40 people inside, but the increase in customer limits may not make as much difference to smaller venues while social distancing and the one person per four square metre rule remained in place, he said.

“Forty people inside is double what we had last week, so that is going to benefit us, and we’re going to embrace it – my team’s happier and happier every day the more we open up but we need to get a few more through the door to make it economically viable,” he said.

“And it’s tough when you feel like you are doing the right thing – checking postcodes and everything, keeping everyone distanced – it’s a little bit ridiculous how much distancing we still have to have but that’s a tough call for the government.”

Find details of the pubs’ grand final day celebrations via www.facebook.com/sanremohotel.au and www.facebook.com/middlekorumburrahotel.

Indoor recreational activities such as dance, ballet, gymnastics and other non-contact pursuits can recommence in regional Victoria from November 1, for people under the age of 18

Given regional students have already returned to primary and secondary school classrooms, some are questioning why dance schools still have to wait.

Bass Coast Ballet School vice president Kerrie Atyeo is among them, but nevertheless welcomes the bringing forward of the date from November 23.

“It’ll be great to have students come back for face-to-face classes after a really up and down time, to finish off the year with their teachers,” Kerrie said.

“From a regional perspective, I don’t really see the purpose [in continuing to wait when schools have already reopened], but I think they’re just trying to do things in degrees.”

Based in Wonthaggi and servicing around 54 students aged two and up, Bass Coast Ballet School last week launched an online campaign aiming to raise $4000 to replenish finances that have “suffered greatly” this year as lessons have had to move online during the lockdowns.

They’ve even got Bass Coast Shire Mayor Brett Tessari on board, pledging to jump off the Inverloch Jetty in a tutu if they reach their fundraising goal.

“Our primary issue at the moment is that because we’ve got no ‘employees’ – we’ve only got two contract teachers – we haven’t been eligible for any government funding throughout any of the lockdown periods,” Kerrie said.

“We’ve applied for grants, but we haven’t been successful. It’s been really hard, after an amazing start to the year, to need to pull from community to be able to keep going as a community organisation,” she said.

Donate to the cause via: www.facebook.com/BassCoastBS.

Question marks remain over reopening dates for indoor contact sports for children and indoor sport and recreation pursuits for adults including gyms, basketball, and martial arts

While she’s been able to run members-only online and outdoor classes and personal training sessions, co-owner and head coach at Pure Fitness Korumburra Alma Morrison said waiting in limbo to find out when things would return to normal was having a detrimental effect on clients’ mental health, as well as their fitness goals.

“We’re still closed, and we’ve got no indication of when that’s going to change – we’ve been pretty much left out of the loop,” Alma said.

“We’ve been trying to get the best out of a bad situation but it’s not the same. A lot of people really see the gym as their safe haven – it’s about the social aspect as much as the fitness aspect for a lot of people, especially the older clients and retired people in our ‘Ageing Well’ class – we’d love to get them back.

“But then you’ve got people that just want to come in and do their own thing – they can’t do that at home if they don’t have the right equipment.”

Sunday’s announcement had left the Pure Fitness team “heartbroken,” Alma said.

“We’re so disappointed, especially after we’ve put so much blood, sweat and tears into keeping the community’s mental health and wellbeing up to scratch throughout this time.

“We don’t understand why we can’t open like we did the last time we came out of lockdown.

“Gyms are some of the most hygienic places, especially when you have limits on people per class, all the strict rules around distancing and disinfecting and every client cleaning up after themselves. It worked really well last time,” she said.

Changes to religious gatherings, home visits

Morwell MP Russell Northe issued his own statement on Sunday, describing the regional changes as a “mixed bag”.

The independent MP welcomed the opening of libraries and indoor pools but criticised changes to restrictions around religious gatherings, saying they were “far from ideal”.

“I have received a lot of contact from persons who have expressed their strong views about the limitations upon attendees allowed at religious services, weddings and, most importantly, funerals,” Mr Northe said.

“I share those same concerns particularly in that many individuals and even family members are being denied the opportunity to say goodbye to a loved one as funerals are currently restricted to 20 persons; yet in other settings the number of persons allowed in less formal settings are far greater.”

Some members of the community were also uncertain as to the “intent and functionality” of people visiting one’s home and the abolishment of previous household bubbles, Mr Northe said.

“Some people have raised their view that the new rules will make family visitations even more difficult with only two persons plus their dependents being able to visit on any one day,” he said.

“Previously, you could have conceivably have five adults from your nominated household bubble visit your home but this in some instances has been reduced to two on the same day.”

‘Steady steps that will see us out of this’

The Premier said the changes had been made on the advice of public health experts and with the goal of avoiding another lockdown.

“I understand that for some these changes won’t be enough. They’ll want more – and they’ll want it sooner. But none of us ever want to do this again.”

All Victorians must keep wearing a face mask, maintain social distance, and get tested if they have any symptoms.

With regards to gym owners in both metro and regional areas, Premier Andrews said on Sunday he “could not give them the news they want now because it would not be safe to do that…” because gyms were “by nature” a high-risk environment in the context of the virus.

“There will be a time when they can [reopen safely] and we’re looking at it closely,” he said.

 

Changes for regional Victoria

Regional Victorian remains in Third Step restrictions.

Changes coming into effect from 11:59pm on October 18, 2020 include:

* You can have up to two people visit you at home each day. Infants under 12 months are not included in this cap, and other dependents can also attend if they cannot be left unattended or cared for in another setting. The two people may be from different households. This replaces the household bubbles.

* Libraries and toy libraries can open for up to 20 people indoors. No more than 10 people can gather in a space (for example for a class). The one person per four square metre rule, signage, cleaning and record-keeping requirements apply.

* Outdoor religious gatherings are allowed for up to 20 people plus one faith leader. This replaces the limit of ten people. This includes ceremonies, with no sharing of food, drink, crockery, utensils, vessels or other equipment by participants.

* The limits of people in restaurants and cafes increases. You can have up to 70 people outdoors and up to 10 people per indoor space with a maximum of 40 people per venue indoors. The two and four square metre rules apply. Indoor spaces must be separated by permanent structures (should reach floor to ceiling or be at least 2.1 metres high) or be a discrete area of the premises. Businesses must continue to ensure people from metropolitan Melbourne do not eat-in.

* Indoor swimming pools can open exclusively for those aged 18 and under. There is a limit of 20 customers in the pool or the one person per four square metre rule (whichever is the smaller number of people).One parent/guardian/carer per child is permitted for supervision purposes and not included in the limit. Swimming classes can resume.

* Indoor pools can open for one-on-one hydrotherapy sessions with a limit of 10 people in the pool at one time.

* Licensed tourism services that use open-air vehicles only are permitted to operate. A vehicle, inclusive of roofed vehicles, is considered an open-air vehicle if at least two sides are open to airflow at all times.

Further changes will come into effect from November 1.

For the latest information see:  https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/victorias-restriction-levels-covid-19.