‘Sense of freedom’ in regional Victoria ahead of lockdown’s end

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Regional Victoria is poised to emerge from lockdown on Friday as the government outlines a range of restrictions to halt the spread of coronavirus from Melbourne hotspots.

Warnings have been issued to Bendigo residents after wastewater testing found viral fragments this week and an extra testing facility has been opened in Anglesea after an asymptomatic man visited the Surf Coast town between May 25 and 27 before later testing positive to COVID-19.

Jemima Tawse with her husband Daniel and daughter Grace in Neerim South.Credit:Justin McManus

The state government has warned a final decision on reopening regional Victoria won’t be made until Thursday, following a final 24 hours of testing and contact tracing, as Melburnians face an extra seven days of lockdown.

“Victoria knows we can get through this and Victorians also know the only option available for all of us … is that we all follow the advice of our public health experts, that is our path out of this,” acting Premier James Merlino said. “The alternative cannot be considered … We can’t let this get out of control.”

Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said he was confident the Barwon public health unit could handle events in Anglesea, where the Golf Club’s bistro has been listed as a tier 1 exposure site.

“There’s a great deal of expertise and local understanding, ” Professor Sutton said. “I’ve got enormous confidence in them managing this situation.”

Noojee Hotel owner Simon Duck with daughter Mavis.Credit:Justin McManus

Mr Duck and his wife Rosie also own the Little Red Duck cafe nearby. The cafe’s manager, Crystal Petschack, said it was stressful last year when she had to ask customers to show identification to prove they were from regional Victoria while Melburnians remained in lockdown.

“We had to say, ‘Can I check your licence?’ and a lot of people were unhappy about it,” she said. “A lot of people didn’t understand why.”

In nearby Neerim South, Jemima Tawse said the possibility of reopening had come as a relief.

“I can appreciate [lockdown] has to happen but I’d much rather be able to travel,” she said. “It’s just nice to have that sense of freedom as a reward for doing the right thing.”

She said her daughter Grace, who is in grade two, was itching to reunite with her classmates even though remote learning this week was less stressful than during the extended stint last year.

“It hasn’t had that long, draining feeling of last time when it felt like it was never going to end.”

A ring of steel around metropolitan Melbourne has been ruled out for now after the government received advice from Victoria Police that a hard border was “resource-intensive”.

Instead, mobile patrols will be used.

“We accept the advice of Victoria Police that that’s the best approach,” Mr Merlino said.

Anglesea Golf Club’s bistro was listed as a tier 1 exposure site following a visit from a COVID-19 case on Tuesday, May 25, between 6pm and 7.30pm.

People who visited the bistro during that time are urged to get tested immediately and quarantine for 14 days from the time of exposure.

Mr Merlino said the venue had since closed and all staff sent home pending test results, and further testing was ongoing.

Health Minister Martin Foley on Wednesday.Credit:Eddie Jim

Four other sites in Anglesea have been listed as tier 3 sites. They include: Anglesea Transfer Station on May 25 from 9.20am to 9.35am, IGA Anglesea on May 25 from 10.30am to 11.15am and again on May 27 from 10.15am to 11am, and Oaks Bakery on May 27 from 10.30am to 11am.

The CFA has also temporarily closed stations at Anglesea and Aireys Inlet for deep cleaning after members alerted the authority that they had attended some of the area’s exposure sites.

A spokeswoman said those members were being tested and isolating pending their results. “We expect to have the stations back online within 24 to 48 hours,” she said.

Health Minister Martin Foley confirmed a warning had also gone out to people living in Bendigo and on the Mornington Peninsula after waste-water testing detected traces of COVID-19.

“I can advise that we have had new detections in Bendigo, particularly between the 27th, the 28th of May … and we’ve had one unexpected detection down on the Mornington Peninsula,” he said.

Mornington Peninsula mayor Despi O’Connor said she did not have a “hard stance” on whether the region should be considered part of Melbourne right now.

“We don’t have cases,” she said. “But we do have viral fragments.”

Cr O’Connor backed a safe approach, saying the virus was moving faster than previous outbreaks. “Let’s be careful for a couple of days and see how we go.”

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