THERE’S no ‘Ring of Steel’, no police roadblocks, only a thin blue line between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria but the Acting Premier James Merlino isn’t worried, as most restrictions are lifted from country areas today.
If he’s not worried, are you?
It’s not like it was back on Wednesday, August 5 last year when there were 725 new cases of community transmission and 15 deaths in Melbourne.
The number of new cases has been trending lower each day, with a total of 69 active cases, and it’s time, according to Mr Merlino and the state health team, to open up country Victoria.
But will there be an exodus from Melbourne to the relative freedom of the country?
“We haven’t changed the municipalities that are listed. I think there’s 31 municipalities that are in greater metropolitan Melbourne affected by this. Some of its very urban, some of its very rural, but in terms of the identification of those that are under the further seven days and five reasons to leave home, it remains those 31,” Mr Merlino said yesterday when confirming most restrictions would be lifted regionally.
There are a number of glaring omissions, and the hard-hit gym sector is one of them.
But in general terms, regional business operators and residents are relieved, even if it does result in some people escaping from Melbourne.
“I’m not too worried to be honest,” Mr Merlino said at yesterday’s COVID briefing.
“I think the settings that we have in place, whether it’s the 10km limit that will apply for people living in Melbourne, the additional patrols of Victoria Police, the requirement on regional businesses to ensure that patrons coming into their shop is either living in regional Victoria, or has a reason to be in regional Victoria,” Mr Merlino said.
“So, I think for all of those reasons I’m not expecting too much of a problem.”
Asked about the police effort to maintain the country/city divide, Mr Merlino said it would be significant.
“I can come back to in terms of the exact number from Vic Pol, but we’re talking about a significantly increased number of police patrols along all of our arterial routes, 24 hours-a-day, seven days-a-week, as well as spot checks in regional Victoria, so a significant uplift in police activity and from Vic Pol’s point of view, and we agree as does public health, this is a more effective way to deal with it, rather than have a ring of steel, which is very resource intensive, and quite limited in terms of the locations where you can have police based statically rather than very mobile.
“There’s a suite of enforcement arrangements and fines that can be issued.
“Whether that’s people gathering in contravention of the chief health officer’s directions, whether it’s businesses not doing the right thing… but I don’t want to be standing here sounding punitive.
“The vast majority of Victorians absolutely do the right thing, but there’s the reason why we’ve got Authorised Officers who will be visiting retail outlets for example, Victoria Police conducting spot checks, there’s a reason why we need to have those enforcements and if necessary fines will be issued.
This is a common-sense suite of initiatives that we’re asking businesses to do. It’s a very simple thing to say to a patron “have you checked in”? And that applies everywhere. Have you checked in? And very simple for businesses to say “show us your driver’s license”, to show that you are living in regional Victoria or if not, evidence that you are appropriately, staying in regional Victoria.
“I think it’s a common sense approach. And I think if you talk to most regional Victorians they would support this. We don’t want this virus spreading into regional Victoria.
“I’m really pleased to be here standing here this morning, confirming the easing of restrictions for regional Victoria. I want to be back here next week, talking about a careful easing of restrictions in Melbourne, and a further easing of restrictions in regional Victoria but everyone’s got a role to play here. Everyone’s got a role to play.
“It’s about people doing the right thing and following the rules. And it’s about businesses and others doing the right thing, making sure people are where they should be.”
Mr Merlino said there was a day-by-day analysis about how we are tracking, and if we can do things, earlier we will.
“But the advice from public health has been we need a further seven days in Melbourne to run, you know to chase this down to the end, to follow this outbreak because we cannot afford to let this outbreak loose in Victoria and beyond our state borders. We’ve got to drive this to ground. And that’s why the advice from public health is that we need those seven days.”
No Long Weekend drives for metro residents
The Acting Premier has also ruled out any chance that Melbourne people will be able to head for the hills, or indeed the beach, on the Queens Birthday Long Weekend.
“The public health advice on it, is that in a week’s time, we expect to be in a position where we can ease restrictions in Melbourne and further these restrictions in regional Victoria, but the public health advice says that we need to have a period of time, a further period of time where we have different settings between regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, unfortunately, that cuts across the period of the long weekend.
“And that’s why I will have more to say about what support we will provide for regional tourism and accommodation.
“I know it’s an inconvenience for people. I know people have made plans, but the advice from public health is that we just need to keep metro and regional separate for a bit further.”
Mr Merlino stressed that it was mandatory for customers to check in, not only at restaurants and cafés in the country, but also at supermarkets and other commercial venues where they might only make a quick visit.
“I think people are pretty accustomed to QR codes, it’s a very easy thing to do. Almost everyone has a phone, I know not everyone does, but almost everyone does. The Service Vic App is a very quick process. So, I think people are pretty accustomed to it.
“The change in behaviour will be particularly around supermarkets, for example, or where you’re going to get a quick takeaway coffee so, we’re working really closely with our supermarket chains. They’ll make it as easy as possible for people to check in when they’re out shopping.
“So it’s clear in the directions this is mandatory. So, in those retail and hospitality settings, it’s mandatory for businesses to make sure that people, in regional Victoria for example, are living appropriately in regional Victoria. We will have Authorised Officers visiting supermarkets and other retail settings, making sure that people are following the rules, and what I said earlier, the vast, vast majority of Victorians know what to do and will do the right thing.
“If necessary, of course, the existing team of authorized officers that we that we have out at the moment, they cut across a number of departments and agencies, we’ve got a team of authorized officers, and they’ll be out, making sure people are doing the right thing. You know we’ve got particular people knocking on the doors of primary close contacts, making sure that they’re isolating, and we’ve got other authorized officers, going into venues, making sure the venues are doing the right thing as well.”