Hopes of lockdown lift

Sarah Luke

VICTORIA is into its third day of its snap lockdown announced on Friday to stem the spread of COVID-19, with stage four restrictions currently enforced across the state.

The most severe restrictions regional Victoria has ever experienced, there are currently four reasons to leave home: shopping for essentials, care and caregiving, exercise and work – if it is essential.

Exercise and shopping is limited to five kilometres from people’s homes, but regional residents with no shops in their five-kilometre radius can travel to the one closest to them.

People must wear fitted face masks whenever they leave home – indoors and outdoors.

People cannot have visitors to their homes unless they are an intimate partner, and can only meet with one other person who they don’t live with to exercise.

Today, some local students made the shift back to learning from home, others enjoyed a student free day, and some schools closed completely, while childcare centres and kindergartens remained open.

Gyms, pools, community centres, entertainment venues and libraries are all closed, and local sport was cancelled.

No visitors are permitted into health care, aged care or other residential facility settings, except for end-of-life reasons, as a support partner for birth or a parent to accompany a child.

Despite essential stores like supermarkets, bottle shops and pharmacies remaining open, the announcement still sparked a disappointing wave of panic buying across Wellington Shire, as some people rushed the toilet paper aisles to get several months’ supply for the five days.

Local hardware stores closed their doors to anyone but tradespeople, inconveniencing those who had planned to occupy themselves with home improvements.

Caf├ęs and restaurants were reduced to offering just take-away, devastating venues caught out by the short notice.

Many had ordered additional supplies for a welcome Valentine’s Day rush.

Some eateries encouraged couples to indulge in their take-away menus for a romantic dinner at home instead to reduce losses.

On their busiest day on the calendar, many local florists shut their doors, but remained open for contactless deliveries and click and collect.

Hotel and accommodation providers can stay open to support guests already staying onsite, but no new bookings can be made.

Funerals can happen with 10 people, but weddings must be postponed.

At the time the Gippsland Times went to print, the lockdown was still expected to last until 11.59pm Wednesday.

This morning, Premier Daniel Andrews said he was not in a position to confirm the lockdown would definitely end on Wednesday night.

“We will just have to wait though to see how things unfold today, tomorrow and throughout Wednesday,” he said.

“We’ll have more to say obviously with the passage of time, with more results, and as more things become known to us.

“We are well-placed right now, but right now is too early to be definitive about Wednesday evening.”

In announcing the “circuit-breaker” lockdown on Friday, the Premier declared the “smarter, and faster, and more infectious” UK strain as a new kind of enemy that needed to be kept at bay until the vaccine had been rolled out.

“Right now, we are reaching close contacts well within the 48-hour benchmark,” he said.

“But the time between exposure, incubation, symptoms and testing positive is rapidly shortening.

“So much so, that even secondary close contacts are potentially infectious within that 48-hour window.

“This is a short, sharp blast – the same as we’ve seen in Queensland and WA – that will give us the what we need to get ahead of this faster moving virus.”

Mr Andrews said the lockdown was Victoria’s brief window to starve the virus of what it wanted most – movement.

“And by going hard and going early – we’re giving ourselves every opportunity to get in front of this,” he said.

With no cases in regional Victoria, many local people have expressed their exasperation at the lockdown’s far-reaching implications, with Gippsland East MLA Tim Bull acknowledging it was a frustrating period for most regional residents.

“It’s hard to take when country areas like east Gippsland where we have no cases are implicated in these restrictions, but our society is founded on abiding by the rules and doing the right thing, so let’s make sure we continue to do that and hopefully we’ll come out the other side of this by Wednesday,” he said.

Mr Bull encouraged people to reach out to those who weren’t coping well with the lockdown, and support businesses where they could by doing things like buying takeaway.

Mr Andrews justified regional Victoria’s inclusion in the statewide lockdown by saying it was intended as a short circuit-breaker, and not an extended period.

“If this was a longer term proposition, then we would appropriately differentiate between Melbourne and regional Victoria, but my message to regional Victorians is we have no evidence of any cases, and that’s how we want to keep it,” he said.

“The last thing we’d ever want to do is lockdown Melbourne, assume that there’s no problem in regional Victoria, have the short sharp shutdown in Melbourne, take that off, and then days later start seeing sewerage testing results across regional Victoria – that is not the outcome we are looking for.”

Australian Small Business and Family Enterprise Ombudsman Kate Carnell called for the government to urgently compensate small businesses forced to close their doors on one of the busiest holidays of the year, covering stock losses and costs such as staff wages and rent.

“It is impossible for small businesses to plan for sudden lockdowns and the timing of this one – coinciding with Valentine’s Day and Lunar New Year celebrations – could not be worse,” she said.

“Given the nightmarish 12 months these cash-strapped small businesses have already been through, there’s a real risk this lockdown could break them.”

Two new cases of coronavirus were confirmed this morning, with one new locally-acquired cases spreading from the Holiday Inn cluster – bringing its total to 17 cases.

The number of active cases in Victoria was 21, made up of 16 locally acquired cases.

Health authorities are blaming the use of a medication nebuliser, which turns liquid into fine mist to deliver inhaled medication, for the source of the Holiday Inn cluster, saying the 38-year-old user did not declare the device.

However, in an interview with The Age, the man, who has since been hospitalised with COVID-19, insists hotel quarantine staff were aware he had the machine, even offering to source more of the medication administered by the nebuliser and adding the whole event has been “very distressing”.

Confusion surrounding the end date of Victoria’s lockdown period, with some believing the lockdown will last for two weeks, stems from a government document outlining the stay safe period.

Released by Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton, the document reads the stay safe period will end on February 26, but Dr Sutton has since clarified directions are always written until the end of the current state of emergency period, and will be revoked at the end of the five-day period, dependent on case numbers.

A list of exposure sites in available via www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/case-locations-and-outbreaks-covid-19.

People experiencing symptoms should get tested immediately, whether they have visited an exposure site or not.

Wellington Respiratory Clinic, at 12 Inglis St, Sale, is open weekdays.

To book, visit www.hotdoc.com.au/medical-centres/sale-VIC-3850/sale-respiratory-clinic/doctors, or phone 5143 7900.