Restrictions eased

By Jared Loughnan

Regional Victoria will take further steps out of COVID-19 restrictions as of this Thursday with a “ring of steel” to be placed around Melbourne to prevent residents from travelling into regional Victoria to help prevent any spread of the virus.

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said on Tuesday morning the 14-day average of daily coronavirus cases in regional Victoria had dropped to 3.6 with only one mystery case and then confirmed regional Victoria had reached the necessary “trigger point” on the roadmap to have restrictions further eased to step three from 11.59pm Wednesday, September 16.

“It is a massive thing. It is a very positive thing. It is something we should all be very pleased and proud of the job that regional Victorians have done,” he said.

Premier Andrews has also flagged a tough crackdown to keep regional Victoria COVID-free with the further easing of restrictions.

“Just in terms of movement from Melbourne to regional Victoria, those reasons have not changed. You cannot be travelling to regional Victoria unless you absolutely need to,” he said.

“We will have more to say about some changes, some enhancements that Victoria police will make in terms of the border between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria.

“That will relate to the percentage of cars that will be pulled over, that will also relate to penalties.”

Premier Andrews had referred to the checkpoints being a “ring of steel” in a press conference on the weekend.

Member for Northern Victoria Tania Maxwell also called on the Government to strengthen checkpoints out of Melbourne in particular public transport checkpoints into regional Victoria from metropolitan

Ms Maxwell has raised her concerns
previously in Parliament stating travellers on V/Line trains and buses were eluding checks when travelling to regional Victoria and now wants these loopholes to be tightened ahead of the anticipated easing of restrictions in regional areas due to come into effect this week. 

Ms Maxwell said she was concerned at the lack of checks on passengers to ensure they are travelling for valid reasons only during Melbourne’s Stage 4 lockdown. 

This includes reports that checks are not made when passengers embark at Southern Cross Station, that coaches are being waved through checkpoints, and that no directives are given to regional police about checking passengers as they disembark at regional stations. 

“It is essential that we protect our low case number status and ensuring strict checkpoints and validity of travel into our region on public transport is essential so that businesses and communities within my electorate can open safely,” Ms Maxwell said. 

In a big change for step three restrictions hospitality businesses will be given the green light to move to both indoor and outdoor seating.

Hospitality businesses will be able to serve patrons outdoors, with a cap of 50 seated patrons per venue, and an updated ‘two square metre’ density limit in place. Indoors, venues can open with a cap of 10 seated customers per space – with up to two spaces per venue – and in line with the existing ‘four square metre’ density rule. 

Tables must be spaced at least 1.5m apart, cleaned after every customer and the details of all patrons must be kept.

And to further help the hospitality industry the Victorian Government have announced a $87.5 million Outdoor Eating and Entertainment Package which will provide to councils and businesses outside of Melbourne’s CBD to make widespread outdoor dining safe, practical and a reality this summer. 

A total of $58 million will go towards grants of up to $5,000 to help hospitality businesses pay for the practical things that will make this plan work – umbrellas, outdoor furniture, screens and other equipment. 

The grants will be available to licensed and unlicensed cafés, restaurants, takeaway food businesses, pubs, taverns, bars and clubs with a payroll of less than $3 million.

On Sunday the Victorian Government also announced over $1.1 billion in cash grants to support small and medium sized businesses that are most affected by coronavirus restrictions including $822 million as part of the third round of the Business Support Fund.

Around 75,000 eligible businesses with payrolls up to $10 million will receive grants of $10,000, $15,000 or $20,000 depending on their size.

Premier Andrews also announced further support to bars, restaurants, pubs, clubs, hotels and reception centres, with the establishment of a $251 million dedicated Licenced Venue Fund, with grants of between $10,000 and $30,000 for licenced venues of all shapes and sizes. The government is also providing further relief by waiving liquor license fees for 2021.

As of Tuesday, September 15 both Federation Council and Moira Shire local government areas remain COVID-19 free with zero active cases recorded since before Easter.

What does Step 3 mean for residents and businesses? See page 4 for all the details.