Regional Victoria to reopen, but strict limits to hamper business

For our free coronavirus pandemic coverage, learn more here.

Trevor Robinson will happily welcome customers back inside his Barwon Heads cafe, but he considers it more a service to the community than a business decision.

Lockdown will be lifted in regional Victoria on Friday, but strict capacity limits for the hospitality sector will make it difficult for many businesses to trade profitably.

At the start of the pandemic, Mr Robinson vowed he would continue operating his Ebb & Flow cafe so customers could at least get their coffee fix during lockdown.

“I promised the public I would remain open through thick and thin for two years,” he said.

From Friday, the regional hospitality sector can resume seated service, but operators can only have a maximum of 10 people indoors and 20 people outside. Mr Robinson estimated he could serve about 60 people indoors throughout the day under the restrictions, though he also has two outside areas.

“That’s nowhere near enough to cover the cost of opening the place with a full menu and full service,” he said.

Trevor Robinson is planning to reopen his Barwon Heads cafe for indoor service when restrictions ease on Friday. Credit:Jason South

Travel limits will be scrapped, but having visitors at home will remain banned when coronavirus restrictions are eased across regional Victoria at 11.59pm on Thursday.

Many parents are relieved childcare is reopening and that students in prep, years 1, 2 and 12 will return to the classroom. Masks will remain mandatory, even outdoors.

There will be no ring of steel enforcing a border around Melbourne where the lockdown will continue, however, police said they would monitor the roads for people leaving the city.

Premier Daniel Andrews said there would be “focused and targeted” measures in the future if cases were recorded in regional communities, raising the prospect of location-specific restrictions rather than statewide lockdowns.

Regional Victoria is coming out of lockdown, but restrictions will remain, including bans on visitors in the home. Credit:Paul Jeffers

Mr Andrews praised regional residents for their work in preventing widespread cases outside of Melbourne. But he warned restrictions had to be released slowly.

“It’s not a snap back. It’s not freedom day,” he said.

The state recorded 221 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, with five in regional Victoria.

Greater Shepparton – which currently has 83 active COVID-19 cases – will not join the rest of regional Victoria in reopening, but Mr Andrews said he hoped the city would catch up next week.

Victorian Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent. Credit:Eddie Jim

Shepparton recorded no new cases on Wednesday, but there are still some day-13 tests that need to be processed for those in isolation.

Mayor Kim O’Keeffe was not surprised her city remained in lockdown but said the situation looked promising, with vaccinations increasing and people following the rules.

“We want to get out sooner than later, but we want to make sure when we do get out, we stay out,” she said.

The government also pledged to help Victorians stranded in border communities by establishing a new permit exemption category. To get home, they will have to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result and at least one vaccination dose.

Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent said more than 200 officers would patrol the arterial and back roads around Melbourne to make sure residents, except for permitted workers, remained in the city.

“There’s a really good chance you’re going to be intercepted if you try to get through these checkpoints,” he said.

Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said regional businesses still needed financial support because many relied on visitors from Melbourne for most of their revenue.

“Many businesses will be seriously considering the viability of reopening,” she said.

In a submission to the state government, industry body Restaurant & Catering Australia called for a trial reopening of hospitality venues in areas of Melbourne that had low case numbers and high vaccination rates in October.

Shadow spokesman for regional Victoria Peter Walsh said the government had walked back its policy of “destructive statewide lockdowns”.

“Lockdowns should only be a last resort, but Daniel Andrews’ policy of using them – statewide – as a first response has left Victorians losing hope we’ll ever get out of this,” he said.

Stay across the most crucial developments related to the pandemic with the Coronavirus Update. Sign up for the weekly newsletter.

Most Viewed in National

From our partners

Source: Read Full Article