THE State Government appears to be scaling back its promise to release regional Victoria from the same “lockdown” restrictions that exist in Melbourne, as metropolitan numbers reached new levels yesterday.

A further 246 new cases of COVID-19 were notified in the state, making it a total of 1619 active cases, mostly in the northern and western suburbs of Melbourne but with 4 additional cases in the Shepparton area. There were also two positives over the weekend, among interstate truck drivers, at Maroopna and Wodonga.

COVID Commander Jeroen Weimar said health authorities continued to have a firm hold on the Shepparton outbreak and he praised the truck drivers for minimising the risk to the local community.

Asked what were the chances were of restrictions being eased this week in regional Victoria, State Health Minister Martin Foley said it would be more in the nature of “a gradual easing” rather than a “snap-back” to pre-lockdown conditions.

“As the premier and the Chief Health Officer have indicated, there are still plans for, not a snapback, but certainly an easing of restrictions for regional Victoria, with the likely exception of the Shepparton- Goulburn Valley area because of the cluster there.

“And that will be focusing on support measures, well-being measures, and a gradual easing.

“It shouldn’t be seen as a snap back to where we were, say April or May, but certainly a recognition that the chains of transmission in the regions are different, and in most of the regions, very different to what they are in metropolitan Melbourne.

“And the region’s main risk, continue to be, as we’ve seen with the truck drivers and others, a combination of importing the virus, particularly from New South Wales, and making sure that the metropolitan Melbourne leaks don’t get into our regions.”

Mister Foley was also asked to comment on the risk that Melbourne people would infiltrate regional areas if there was a significant easing of restrictions there.

“Are you worried we are going to see an influx of people from the city go out to the regions if they can, you know, to go to the pub or anything like that?”

“We know that regional Victorians have worked really hard to keep their chains of transmission and virus-free status, really solid,” Mr Foley said.

“We know that metropolitan Melbourne Victorians need to follow the rules and we’ll work closely with local government, Victoria Police, and others, to make sure that as things are slightly eased in the regions, with the exception of Shepparton, that enforcement and protection will be there.

“There is also a role for local communities to enforce that. And, ultimately, as we move towards higher and higher levels of vaccination, that the system of hopefully linking vaccination status to access to sites will further assist in identifying the appropriate location of community members to make sure they follow the rules.”