Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews gave his strongest indication yet of ramped-up measures to protect Ballarat from unlawful Melbourne visitors, with hints at increased fines and more intense road checkpoints.
According to Mr Andrews, plans are in place to increase the strength of the 'ring of steel' surrounding Melbourne to help better protect regional Victoria from areas that still have relatively high rates of the virus.
Speaking at his press conference on Tuesday, Mr Andrews hinted at greater fines for those traveling from Melbourne unlawfully, as well as the prospect of a greater number of cars being stopped at regional checkpoints.
"In terms of movement from Melbourne to regional Victoria, reasons have not changed," he said.
"You cannot be travelling to regional Victoria unless you absolutely have to. Rules are already in place - however enforcement will be beefed up even further.
"There will be more cars being stopped... there will be significant queues, there will be traffic issues, but regional Victorians will understand (why).
We have to do everything we can to have people stopped, fined, and turned around.Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews
"There will be a time later in the year when we can have that freedom of movement, but not now because the numbers are low. (You) cannot have unlawful and unnecessary trips; we won't allow that to happen."
This announcement was welcomed by Buninyong MP Michaela Settle, who stressed the importance of protecting the region as it opens up to other areas of regional Victoria.
"I believe (Daniel Andrews) will be talking more with (Police) Minister Lisa Neville tomorrow about what we're going to do around those borders," she said.
"We know that we need to keep our regions safe and we need to keep our regions free from the virus, so there will be extra efforts around this together."
Retail and hospitality industries across Ballarat have already highlighted the need to minimise exposure to potentially riskier visitors from higher COVID areas like Melbourne as part of their re-opening plan.
Commerce Ballarat chief executive Jodie Gillett backed the need to prioritise local business who were attempting to open up safely without added risks.
"Businesses are going to do everything they can to keep you safe so they can stay open," she said.
"It's only because we've been doing the right thing in regional Victoria that we're allowed to take this step, so we must continue to do so, so our businesses can stay open and our citizens can remain employed."
AHA Vic president David Canny is also advocating regional publicans play a role in ensuring the transition to the next steps out of lockdown.
"We don't want to stuff this up for the next stage, and we don't want to stuff this up for our metro Melbourne counterparts,"' he said,
The Victorian Department of Transport will rely on Victoria Police to continue to monitor people leaving Melbourne heading into Ballarat by public transport including the V/line service.
"Victoria Police are monitoring those leaving Melbourne to ensure they are travelling for one of the permitted reasons," a Department of Transport spokesperson said.
"Regional trains will continue to run to the normal timetable to support those who need to make essential journeys in line with the permitted reasons to travel between metropolitan Melbourne and regional Victoria."
"We're asking everyone to play their part - if you don't have a valid reason to travel, stay home."
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