BALLARAT residents have openly flouted social distancing laws within hours of Prime Minister Scott Morrison announcing the possible lifting of some lockdown laws this week.
Shoppers jammed into retail outlets across Ballarat at the weekend, with some queues stretching up to 50 metres, with little, if any social distancing happening, despite the best efforts of retailers to create orderly entrances.
The shopping frenzy comes as a Ballarat doctor makes an impassioned plea for residents to stay the course of the quarantine for the long term health of everyone.
Matt Pilkington from Health First Medical Group told The Courier that he daily sees patients who were at elevated risk of catching the virus.
"A month ago I was bracing for something very horrible," he said.
"We're lucky we haven't seen that so far. But we've seen other countries do well, but then only to have it skyrocket. Look at Singapore.
"I guess most of those people out shopping are looking for Mothers Day presents. I realise it's a harsh thing to say, A Mother's Day present isn't worth someone's life."
At Stockland Wendouree on Saturday, The Courier witnessed a queue to enter K-Mart which stretched many metres from one side of the mall to the other. Management had placed queues and markings, but mostly they were being ignored by shoppers. At Central Square, queues also lined the street outside Target despite queue markings.
It comes as a number of retail outlets opened their doors for the first time in a month, while others, including Myer, said they would remain closed until at least May 11.
One shopper at Stockland, who said she shops at Coles every Saturday, said the amount of people around was larger than before lockdowns.
"There's no social distancing going on, people are just moving around like normal," she said. "There's a queue to K-Mart from EB Games, it's crazy."
Less than half of the shops remained closed at Stockland on Saturday.
One staff member at a business that asked not to be named saidit was by far the busiest the shopping centre has been since social distancing was enforced.
"It's pretty crazy to see," they said.
"Nothing has come close to this, it's just been non-stop over there (at K-Mart) for most of the day."
Official statistics released on Sunday show there were 13 new cases of coronavirus in the state, taking the weekend's tally to 20 and 1384 overall. Victoria's death toll stands at 18.
More than 38,000 people have been tested in the past week, of those tested, three were proven to have the virus.
Victoria Police said it had conducted 853 spot checks at homes, businesses and non-essential services across the state as part of Operation Sentinel on Saturday, issuing 46 fines for non-compliance.
Superintendent Jenny Wilson - who oversees policing in the region encompassing the Ballarat, Moorabool, Hepburn, Golden Plains and Pyrenees communities - said enforcement will continue for the foreseeable future.
Dr Pilkington said he feared complacency among Ballarat residents, with the city having gone more than a month without a new coronavirus detection.
"Everything is going well because of what we were doing two weeks ago," Dr Pilkington said.
"There's a two weeks lag time, if we all think right now things are going well, let's see what position we are at in two weeks time.
"The fact is we are not party to the data the government is given, we have to trust the plan, we can't be doing different things, I'll do what the government says until that time they tell us we can relax a bit."
Premier Investments, which owns the Just Group and runs stores Peter Alexander, Smiggle, Portmans, Jay Jay's, Jacqui E, dotti and Just Jeans said at this stage its stores would remain closed until at least May 11.
"Whilst our seven brands do sell much loved discretionary products, it is irrefutable that we are not an essential retailer. Accordingly, our retail stores will remain closed until at least May 11," it said in a statement.
Myer chief executive officer John King said at this stage Myer would not reopen until next Monday at the earliest.
"Our plans for reopening our physical stores are well advanced and we look forward to welcoming customers back into stores, when it is safe to do so," Mr King said.
Shopping Centre Council chief executive Angus Nardi said people should continue to social distance.
"As more people return to shopping centres, we want to assure the community our industry is working hand-in-hand to ensure that strict public health guidelines are followed," Mr Nardi said.
National Secretary of the Shop, Distributive and Allied Employees Association Gerard Dwyer said retail workers continue to be on the front line serving the community.
"It is critical that they have a safe working environment and that public health protocols are in place," Mr Dwyer said.
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