Welcome easing of restrictions offers whole of Victoria hope
The immediate jump to stage two restrictions for regional Victoria is a welcome acceleration along Victoria’s road to COVID normal. Not only will the reopening provide a lifeline to communities that have languished in lockdowns, it is also a signal that the Andrews government may prove a tiny bit more flexible than it has so far.
The Premier could not really argue against reopening regional Victoria now; the 14-day average daily coronavirus case number sits at 3.6 in the regions, on par with or better than Sydney’s. Many Victorian shires have had no cases for weeks. Regional contact tracing centres such as Bendigo and Geelong have proved local knowledge goes a long way towards finding hotspots. Country residents have shown they are more than willing to abide by the rules.
The Age welcomes the news that a limited amount of indoor dining is possible in rural Victoria now – up to 20 people inside in big venues, with more dining outside. It’s a hopeful sign that the government is willing to tweak rules laid out two weeks ago. Local hairdressers, often as much the heartbeat of small towns as the pubs, will also reopen, and open-air concerts, community sports and other events that help people heal will be allowed to go ahead.
The mask rule remains in place in the regions, and this makes sense as it becomes increasingly clear that wearing masks, even home-sewn ones, reduces the spread of disease without significantly hampering freedom. As yet there is no timeline for reopening retail, and the government has not worked out if camping, a pursuit devoted to social isolation, should be legal again. Holiday homes can be rented out but only to regional Victorians who adhere to the new household bubble rules.
Of all the new rules, the household bubble seems the hardest and the least enforceable. Arguing that it was family affection that drove the second surge, the state government demands that households choose only one other household to visit, and only up to five people. This will require parents to choose which of their adult children they can invite to visit, and indeed, households will have to choose between their parents, their siblings or their friends, or their own children’s friends.
Share houses will have to collectively choose, blocking out any family connections. It is true that people can meet others outside, but the choices forced on Victorians who have been apart for so long are unkind. The Premier was unnecessarily snide when he said ‘‘your third-best friend from primary school might have to wait’’.
It would be better if groups of five were able to visit homes, as they were when we came out of lockdown, assuming we are confident that the state’s contact tracing is up to scratch. The government owes it to Victorians who have made these sacrifices to be transparent and efficient in upgrading our testing and contact tracing, rather than relying on lockdown for safety.
For Melburnians, the extra freedoms offered beyond the city boundaries will be tantalising, a bittersweet reminder of our own cramped confines. Even the most compliant advocate of our stage four restrictions would concede that it’s difficult to maintain morale in the long twilight of our city’s shuttered existence.
Thus the reinforcement of the ‘‘ring of steel’’ to prevent Melburnians from fleeing into the country. The towns that once begged us to bring an empty Esky do not want to see city folk until infection numbers are much lower. We must not try to run the barrier. If the regions can flourish without outbreaks, Melbourne will be better placed to escape its chains without setting off a third wave.
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