Roadmap to ease restrictions for regional Victoria

THE state government will this Sunday release a dedicated roadmap to reopen regional Victoria.

The government will release separate plans for Melbourne and regional Victoria, where there are vastly fewer cases of COVID-19 compared to the metropolitan area.

The government will also offer tailored guidance to different industries.

Discussions are underway with a range of industry, unions and community organisations to inform the final work on Victoria’s roadmap to ‘COVID Normal’, including a separate roadmap to protect and support regional Victoria.

Regional Development Minister Jaclyn Symes will lead consultation with regional partnership committees, employers and unions to ensure we keep regional communities safe and help local businesses rebuild.

The government will also consult with community support organisations on the impacts of social isolation on Victorians.

“I’ve been talking to country communities throughout this pandemic and will continue to do so – making sure we have local voices shaping how we respond and recover from this virus,” Ms Symes said.

Premier Daniel Andrews said regional Victoria and Melbourne were experiencing this virus in different ways.

“That’s why we need a dedicated regional roadmap to plan for – and protect – regional Victoria,” he said.

“We want to open up the whole of our state in a steady and safe way. Because no matter your postcode, we’re in this together.”

Industry Support and Recovery Minister Martin Pakula said the government’s plan for regional Victoria would case numbers low can continue to be low, as well as support businesses.”

Advice will be provided to Victoria’s public health team which will consider feedback as work on the roadmap continues.

The government is considering how to reopen industries practically, safely and steadily, looking at physical distancing requirements, wearing face coverings, requiring hygienic workplaces and continuing to act quickly if staff become unwell.

The government will commit to tailoring guidance to different industries as part of the roadmaps.

Wherever possible, workforce bubbles should be created to limit the number of staff who have prolonged and close contact with each other. To achieve this, teams of staff could be rostered on the same shifts, with no overlap in shift changes and a reduction in staff working across multiple sites.

Under the proposed framework, meetings and lunchtimes could also look different, with enclosed spaces avoided wherever possible. Opening doors and windows for airflow rather than relying only on recirculated air and moving tearooms and lunch breaks outside – along with meetings and team catch-ups – all help to reduce risk.

The government will also consult with community support organisations on the impacts of social isolation on Victorians.

The government will also seek feedback on the current worker permit system and childcare arrangements.

Gippsland South MLA Danny O’Brien said the government must allow Gippslanders to support their own local businesses as part of an exit plan from the second wave of COVID-19.

Mr O’Brien said the government’s decision to outline a specific regional plan for recovery was a good step, but must allow more local businesses to resume to create jobs across Gippsland.

“It is correct that we need a separate plan from Melbourne, which will take longer to recover and enjoy more relaxed restrictions given its higher number of COVID-19 cases,” Mr O’Brien said.

“In Gippsland, most of our shires have very low, or even zero, active cases and as the trend continues down.

” We need the government to allow our businesses to slowly reopen in a COVID-safe manner.

“That means giving pubs, restaurants, caf├ęs and other hospitality businesses the opportunity to reopen and serve their customers as was proposed back in June.

“There are thousands of other businesses that will benefit from a gradual relaxation of the rules, allowing them to re-employ staff and boost job creation across the region.”

Mr O’Brien said this did not mean re-opening to tourists from Melbourne or elsewhere any time soon.

“I’m glad the Premier wants to ‘jealously guard’ the low numbers we have in Gippsland and I encourage the government to strengthen its enforcement of boundaries between city and country as restrictions are relaxed,” he said.

“While we love having our Melbourne friends visit and stay in our region, that’s not something we can do just yet.

“However, giving locals the opportunity to support local businesses and local tourism operators when it is safe to do so, will be a step in the right direction.”

On Wednesday, there were 125 active cases in regional Victoria, compared to 2020 in metropolitan Melbourne. Wellington Shire only had one active case, attributed to the 3851 postcode, stretching from Bundalaguah, Airly and Kilmany to Loch Sport and Seaspray (excluding Sale, Wurruk and East Sale).