RURAL Councils Victoria has written to the Victorian government calling for an easing of COVID-19 restrictions in rural and regional Victoria.
Chair Mary-Ann Brown said the body (which also represents Wellington and East Gippsland shire councils) asked for restrictions to be eased as soon as possible, because of the extremely low infection rate in rural and regional Victoria.
“We have formally requested that the easing in rural Victoria occur at least on the same day they change in Melbourne, and much earlier if possible,” she said.
This would be consistent with the government’s earlier decision to treat rural and regional areas differently to the metropolitan region due to the massive differential in infection rates.
Ms Brown said the rolling 14 day average in regional Victoria of new cases was 0.3 last Thursday.
“There have been zero new cases reported in regional Victoria, which has a population of more than one million spread over more that 220,000 square kilometres,” she said.
“There are zero cases from unknown sources in regional Victoria.
“Many parts of rural Victoria have had zero new cases for much longer than 14 days and, yet have harsher than necessary restrictions imposed on their communities.”
Moving rural Victoria to the final step means that the next change would allow rural and regional areas to have outdoor public gatherings of up to 50 people; up to 20 visitors to the home; indoor hospitality functions for up to 50 people, and gyms and municipal libraries reopening.
“RCV also suggested that rural-based workers to be allowed to return to work – subject to density requirements and COVID-safe plans – as it is our understanding that working from home is largely required to keep people away from high-risk situations, such as public transport, lifts, escalators and other factors more relevant to Melbourne,” she said.
“RCV is committed to working collaboratively with the Victorian government an ensure that all rural Victorians can transition safely through the easing of restrictions.”
The state opposition has added its support to the cause, saying it believed the government should implement New South Wales restrictions in country areas.
Leader of the Victorian Nationals and shadow minister for regional Victoria and decentralisation Peter Walsh said instead of forcing regional Victoria to stay in more weeks of lockdown until case numbers improved in Melbourne, the government should fast-track its ‘roadmap’ plan for regional Victoria.
“Our dance schools and gyms are closed, school students are spending more time out of the classroom and cafés, restaurants and pubs are struggling to make ends meet under unworkably low capacity limits,” he said.
“In comparison, New South Wales has managed to open up, while still recording low numbers of new cases each day.
“Immediately introducing NSW rules for regional Victoria, while still enforcing wearing of masks, will drive up business confidence and safely reopen our country communities.”
The state’s peak business body, the Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry, has also backed safely easing restrictions early to get regional Victoria back to business.
Last week, chief executive Paul Guerra said with extremely low case numbers in regional Victoria, “we would hope to see further easing of restrictions in coming days”.