CITY media is already calling it – Melbourne’s lockdown will be extended beyond this weekend, until Tuesday or Wednesday next week at the very least.
Such a move, expected to be announced at the Deputy Premier James Merlino’s daily briefing on Wednesday, would send shockwaves through business and the community in general – especially organisations like the Wonthaggi Theatrical Group and those providing services to weddings and other function.
But there’s some hope, some small hope at least that regional Victoria might be given a reprieve, notwithstanding the views of police association secretary, Wayne Gatt, that checkpoints along the “Ring of Steel” were largely ineffective last time.
Instead, Mr Gatt suggested mobile police checks on both freeways and smaller roads as a superior approach that would be like “breath testing on steroids”, where the looming threat of being caught by a roving police officer would deter those considering breaking the rules.
“Last year’s model was not effective, nor was it efficient,” Mr Gatt said.
“Our advice in debriefing that operation to both Victoria Police and the state government has been clear: if in the future government policy required some form of separation to be policed, there are much better ways of doing it that are far less labour intensive and far more effective.”
However, despite media speculation, the Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley stressed at Tuesday’s briefing that no such decision had been taken to extend the lockdown.
“It all depends on the recommendations from the public health team. They are going through the data but it doesn’t take much for this highly infectious variant from popping up in extremely risky settings as we have seen,” Mr Foley said.
“We haven’t yet linked the Arcare Maidstone to another person. We have identified it genomically as being linked to the South Australian hotel quarantine breach but not yet physically.
“We need to make sure our most vulnerable residents and our most vulnerable Victorians are protected.”
There have, however, been many calls from across regional Victoria for the lockdown to only impact metropolitan Melbourne, or at risk parts of the metro area, not the regions where there has not been an outbreak.
Tim Bull, the Member for Gippsland East and Shadow Minister for Carers and Disability, Fishing and Boating, Veterans’ Affairs and Racing has come out strongly for a regional reprieve today.
He said other states including NSW with the Northern Beaches and Western Australia with Perth and the nearby Peel Region, had been able to manage isolating parts of their states when dealing with outbreaks, why not Victoria.
He said he represented an electorate three hours from Melbourne that was completely unconnected with the outbreak in Melbourne.
Open up regional Victoria, says Bull MP
“We are having the same lockdown restrictions as greater Melbourne is. What we would like to see it, and currently there’s no cases in rural and regional Victoria, we would like to see the same rules and approach apply as happened in Queensland, New South Wales with the Northern Beaches, in Western Australia with Perth and Peel, to have the restrictions where the cases are, and open up areas of rural and regional Victoria and allow us to get on with our economic recovery,” Mr Bull said.
Speaking to Sky New today, Mr Bull was also asked about the hotel quarantine system and who was to blame.
He responded that the hotel quarantine system, which placed infectious people in hotels in metro areas, was originally the initiative of the Victorian Government but was clearly not working.
But he focussed attention on the need to lift the lockdown in regional areas.
“What we’re dealing with now is the case that we have at the present time, and that is that we have a number of cases in Melbourne, we have a very large number of exposure sites, but we are having a different approach here in Victoria that other states have given and that is we are locking down the whole state, including all of these areas that would help assist in leading economic recovery and I represent one of those areas. I find it very, very frustrating that that’s the case. I’ve spent the whole morning on the phone to business and the community leaders questioning me, why we are continuing to be locked down in the country.”
Locals urged to support business
Meanwhile, locally, most businesses have remained open for takeaway food and beverages, and click and collect purchases and in general, local shoppers have been out and about getting the necessities.
At the Hicksborough Store in Wonthaggi, business operator Sam Kang reported that business was slower than usual without the passing trade and without the ability to sit down and eat but he appreciated the effort many people were making to support local business.
The Hicksborough Store is open Tuesday to Sunday for takeaway coffee, cake, breakfast and lunch via takeaway or check out their takeaway dinner menu for Thursday to Saturday including the famous Korean fried chicken burger… mmm might give that a try!