Victorians deserve to know more about reopening plans

While the merits of the various restrictions imposed on Victorians will continue to be debated, what is clear is that locking the state down hard has worked as a health strategy. The sacrifices made during our long social and economic hibernation have worked. Our COVID-19 daily infection numbers have plunged from a horror peak of 725 on August 5 to the single-digit tallies we’ve seen in the past week, allowing Victorians to hope for a future when we rejoin the residents of other states, where they do not fear the deadly spread of this virus and the long tail of lingering disease.



Europe’s second wave has been blamed on governments that reopened too soon and hesitated to bring back restrictions. Only China has managed to claw its way free of the disease from higher numbers. Like the Chinese, Victorians have endured tough restrictions in the fight against the pandemic. But we have remained a democracy able to debate the wisdom of the choices made by the authorities. And there is much to debate.

On Sunday, Premier Daniel Andrews redrew the road map out of lockdown once again. His directions to COVID normal remain cautious and his fears of flare-ups have informed tough choices limiting family reunions and public celebrations. The prospect of Melburnians celebrating the grand final with friends no doubt plays a large part in the decision to withhold substantial freedoms within the city limits for another fortnight.

The Age reluctantly endorses the decision to maintain the ring of steel around the metropolitan boundary, as the recent Kilmore and Shepparton cases highlight the risk to the regions while Melbourne still has a higher caseload. But Mr Andrews and Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton did not provide a compelling public health case for maintaining the city’s movement restrictions. While many will enjoy the greater possibilities offered by the ability to travel 25 kilometres from home without being heavily fined, we do not know why travelling 30 kilometres or more would increase the infection risk.

Epidemiologists have again questioned the travel limits within Melbourne given that restrictions remain in place which oblige no more than 10 people from two households to meet outside, all wearing masks. Any overcrowded beach or park can be shut down or cleared by police.

We would encourage the Premier to be open-minded about bringing forward reopening dates for retail and hospitality, which have been dangerously starved. If hairdressers may take bookings, surely a hardware store or bookshop may open safely with social distancing and capped numbers.
In June, Mr Andrews argued that cafes and restaurants that take down numbers and names could operate with low risk when infection rates were higher. There must be ways to allow dining to resume sooner. The regional reopening shows the way.

Indeed, the real responsibility from here must lie with the state government – we deserve an excellent contact-tracing system and a well-protected health system to deal with outbreaks. Now is a good time for the federal and state governments to stop sniping and work constructively on a united plan to support Victorians, who have endured terrible burdens while shielding the rest of the nation, and to reunite Australians across the borders that divide us.

Beyond this, Victorians deserve more information about the road ahead beyond the first week of November. Spring Street must tell us its plans to reopen for Christmas and the summer beyond. We need more than a light at the end of the tunnel, we need to see a way clear into 2021.

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