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Regional communities are urging the state government to ease restrictions in parts of Victoria with no cases or exposure sites to reduce the social and economic impact of the latest lockdown.
The state government is set to announce later this week whether the seven-day lockdown will continue to apply across the state.
Communities in regional Victoria that have not been exposed to the lastest coronavirus clusters want the government to ease restrictions. Credit:Eddie Jim
Cases in the latest outbreak have been largely concentrated in Melbourne. However, there have been exposure sites in regional Victoria, including Bendigo, Axedale and Cohuna where authorities are monitoring contacts who are now isolating.
The push for more freedoms in regional Victoria comes as the independent MP for Mildura, Ali Cupper, called on the state and federal governments to expand access to the Pfizer vaccine in north-west Victoria.
Rural Councils Victoria deputy chair Jenny O’Connor said restrictions should be eased in country locations where there was a low risk of infection.
“There is a point where it doesn’t make any sense to require the same level of lockdown in rural areas as in Melbourne,” she said.
A check point on the ring of steel last year when Melbourne and regional Victoria were subject to different restrictions. Credit:The Age
There has been just one infection recorded in the Indigo Shire, where Cr O’Connor is based, since the pandemic began.
“Clearly if the risk is low we shouldn’t have the same level of restrictions [as Melbourne],” she said.
Buloke Shire mayor Daryl Warren called for lighter restrictions in his municipality, which has not recorded a single coronavirus infection during the entire pandemic.
“There’s a heck of a lot of regional Victoria that’s not impacted,” he said.
Colac Otway mayor Kate Hanson said she was also hoping the government would announce some reprieve for regional communities that had not been exposed to the latest clusters.
“I’m hoping they’re going to be more flexible.” she said.
Victorian Nationals deputy leader Steph Ryan said regional communities should be spared from the lockdown if no new cases or exposure sites were recorded, arguing for geographic restrictions according to risk.
She said allowing more freedoms where the threat of infection was low would help regional businesses, particularly tourism operators.
“If people in regional Victoria can continue to travel, then it will mitigate some of their losses,” she said. “Obviously it needs to be done safely.”
Health Minister Martin Foley has not ruled out the “ring of steel” approach.Credit:Simon Schluter
When asked if regional Victoria could be separated from the current lockdown, Health Minister Martin Foley said there were still people quarantining at Axedale and Cohuna where there had been exposure sites.
“They might well turn positive,” he said. “Let’s hope not.”
He did not rule out bringing back the ring of steel, saying the government would follow the recommendations of the Chief Health Officer and public health team.
On Monday, Police Association secretary Wayne Gatt spoke out against the ring of steel introduced during lockdown last year, saying mobile police checks on freeways and smaller roads would be a more effective containment measure.
Apollo Bay Chamber of Commerce president Bob Knowles said communities across the state would be hoping for lighter restrictions.
“I’m sure the sentiment in all of regional Victoria is that we would prefer to have fewer restrictions than a complete state-wide lockdown,” he said.
But he stressed health advice should guide the authorities’ decisions rather than frustration with limited freedoms.
Mildura’s Ali Cupper has written to Prime Minister Scott Morrison and the state government requesting an expansion of Pfizer vaccine coverage in her community where there is no vaccination centre. She wants people between 40 and 49 to access the shots through their doctors.
Mildura MP Ali Cupper has written to the state and federal governments urging them to expand Pfizer access in her community. Credit:Eddie Jim
“Our community is isolated and has a range of poor health indicators that make our population particularly susceptible to the worst effects of COVID-19,” she wrote.
Ms Cupper said her community was exhausted by the restrictions and needed some relief.
Mr Foley told reporters on Tuesday his government was talking to the Commonwealth about potentially expanding Pfizer availability but that depended on supply certainty.
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