Following Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews' decision to return metropolitan Victoria and Mitchell Shire to stage 3 COVID-19 restrictions, Ballarat's leaders have stressed the importance of keeping the region safe.
Speaking to The Courier immediately after the Premier's press conference on Tuesday afternoon, City of Ballarat mayor Ben Taylor said he will support any move by the state government that helps protect the Ballarat community.
"We want to make sure we stay safe as a community and a region," he said.
"We have to look after ourselves, and our family and friends, we have to make sure we're diligent. We're seeing what's happening in Melbourne, we don't want that to happen here."
Looking at how to keep the community safe, Cr Taylor questioned how the Ballarat community will be protected from Melbournians travelling to the region for work or study.
"In Ballarat, we have people driving up from Melbourne to work here now, and I want clarity from the state government for guidance in that area," he continued.
"If we've got workers working here in Ballarat on a daily basis, we need them to be safe, and we need more information. I'm concerned it's not providing that assurance to regional Victorians.
"If you work in construction, for example, you can jump in a car and drive to Ballarat and work in Ballarat. The question is, are the requirements enough? Are people getting tested? Or do people not know they've got it until it's too late."
While it remains unclear how those traveling to the region for work will be handled, Victoria Police have laid out its plan for ensuring people do not travel to Ballarat for any reasons other than those outlined within stage 3 restrictions.
"Victoria Police will continue to utilise booze buses and mobile police facilities as part of its highly visible Operation Sanus," a Victoria Police spokesperson said in a statement.
"They will be deployed in and around metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire so police can perform random checks on drivers and passengers to explain their reason for travel.
"The booze buses will be shifting locations during each shift and people living in or travelling through these areas can expect to see a highly visible police presence anytime, anywhere. Police will also be patrolling other areas throughout the state in police vehicles and on foot patrol."
As some focus on how to protect the Ballarat community from those outside of it, Committee for Ballarat chief executive Michael Poulton is one of many imploring community members to stay cautious.
"This is something we all hoped to avoid," he said.
"From a Ballarat perspective, we're not out of the woods, we need to maintain physical distancing and hand hygiene, and continue with the restrictions we need to withstand this virus.
"We need to keep doing what we do to avoid what we can avoid, and we're really feeling for people in Melbourne."
As for people who have been traveling to the region to enjoy some time at their 'second homes' or 'holiday houses, that will also come to an end according to Premier Daniel Andrews.
"Regional Victoria has very few cases, and vast parts have no cases - this is designed to keep it that way," he said.
"The notion of continuing to move around the state from one home to another is not a risk the public health team is willing to take. No (staying at a) second residence, wherever that might be."
Tourism industry hit with 'massive setback'
Just as some of Ballarat's most popular tourist attractions were beginning to welcome visitors back, Daniel Andrews' decision to return metropolitan Victoria to stage three COVID-19 lockdown came as a devastating blow.
Attractions like Sovereign Hill, Kryal Castle and the Ballarat Wildlife Park will all have to rely on local and regional visitors for at least the next six weeks.
Ballarat Regional Tourism (BRT) CEO Natalie O'Brien said over this period, the Ballarat community has to do its best to support these attractions as well as other businesses that rely heavily on travelers from metropolitan Victoria.
"We need to encourage people within Ballarat to embrace their businesses that are incredibly challenged during this time," she said.
"Whether it be buying local or experiencing local, it's going to be something that people across the region are going to need to embrace until we can get over this curve and start opening up to metro Melbourne."
These sentiments were echoed by Victorian president of the Australian Hotels Association (AHA) David Canny, who added while the region's hotels understand why the decision had to be made, it still comes as a frustrating one.
"It's a massive setback," he said.
"There's an understanding from the industry that it had to happen. Despite the reasons how we got here and all the finger pointing going on, the fact of the matter is the outbreak needs to be stopped.
"It's incredibly frustrating to see things in Victoria going backwards. What's more frustrating for us as an industry is that we look at the way we as an industry have handled the virus, and I believe the industry response has been nothing short of fantastic.
"We've had no known outbreaks other than at a few troubled hotels that we all get lumped into with return travellers.
"For hoteliers to cop this through no fault of their own, that's where the frustration lies... they've done everything right, they've followed the rules and still this has happened."
City of Ballarat mayor Ben Taylor also joined the chorus of people calling for the community to support local attractions.
"It's a great opportunity for Ballarat and surrounds to stay within our region," he said.
"Invest in our region, go out for dinner, support our businesses - knowing we're not going to get outside visitors, we need to support them... If you haven't been to Sovereign Hill or the Wildlife Park, go and have a look."
Businesses 'breathing a sigh of relief'
After a period of uncertainty, Ballarat's retail businesses are enjoying some respite following Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews' decision not to return the region to stage three COVID-19 lockdown.
Commerce Ballarat chief executive Jodie Gillett said following the tense first few minutes of the Premier's press conference on Tuesday afternoon, she believes thousands of businesses within the region had their nerves calmed.
"3000 businesses are breathing a sigh of relief in the Ballarat region," she said.
After a long day of rumors swirling surrounding whether the region would return to a state of lockdown and businesses forced to close, Mrs Gillett said some confidence can return to Ballarat's businesses.
"Businesses are concerned, people are concerned, the community is concerned about what's happening in our state so that confidence level has taken a real hit over the last 10 days to two weeks.
"I think this was an extremely good decision, strong decisions have to be made at this time. We need to contain this virus but at the present time regional Victoria is a safe place and we're really thankful our businesses and continue to do what they do.
"It's critical for the state as a whole that some of the state can continue to do business."
Looking forward, Mrs Gillett said while it may seem like the region is safe, there is no excuse for businesses or community members to become complacent or relaxed about COVID-19.
"Today's announcement for regional Victoria provides businesses with some relief that they can continue to do business, however I think we would be foolish to not be in a state of high alert.
"I think about the Premier's statement about people not getting complacent and people continuing to follow the rules... I would just like to implore the community and the business community to ensure that they are ticking all the boxes to make sure that we're safe in the long term."
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