TAKING that next step towards 'normal' is more complex than merely looking at regional Victorians doing a good job within restrictions, health leaders warn.
An early jump in the state government's roadmap is looking more probable, leading epidemiologist Catherine Bennett and UFS chief Lynne McLennan agree. At the same time, what is safe is very much tied into what is happening in metropolitan regions exactly two months out from a proposed last step together.
Deakin University's Professor Bennett said regional Victoria had gone out of step before and Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews had put the possibility on the table. But, the long-term best outcome also relied on Melbourne numbers being low.
Wednesday marked one month since the last new COVID-19 case emerged in City of Ballarat and the city has been clear of active cases for two weeks.
There were no new COVID-19 cases recorded in regional Victoria on Wednesday. Melbourne's 14-day average dropped to 29.4 and the premier has flagged a chance metropolitan areas could be eased into stage two sooner than Monday as planned.
Professor Bennett said, as cases started to recover and drop off, there was a chance regional Victoria's 14-day average could hit zero by the week's end.
"Cases are now less than a one-in-a-million chance of having coronavirus in Melbourne and there is a very small chance of it spreading fast while they're in lockdown," Professor Bennett said.
"I don't think people need to be fearful of Melbourne anymore. If Melbourne might be opening, for example with more workers in regional Victoria, then regulations might be they have to take their Melbourne rules with them."
Cases are now less than a one-in-a-million chance of having coronavirus in Melbourne...I don't think people need to be fearful of Melbourne anymore.Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin University
Ms McLennan said whatever unfolded, there were likely to be nuances, rather than a clear-cut step forward.
UFS leads Ballarat's primary COVID-19 testing clinic in Lucas.
Ms McLennan said this easing of restrictions was greatly different to moves after the first Victorian virus wave because there was far more evidence on how the virus behaved and transmission patterns.
As much as people might want to move faster, Ms McLennan said we had to adhere to what science and evidence was saying.
And, we only had to look to other countries where massive waves have inflicted even more damage.
"Early on there was the thought this was about choosing between the economy and jobs or people's lives, but it's not that simple anymore," Ms McLennan said.
"There is a chance in making life freer and more attractive in regional Victoria, it will tempt more Melbourne people to push into regional areas too soon. It's a matter of weighing up what's best for everyone."
Committee for Ballarat chief executive officer Michael Poulton said we had to listen to the science, as much as we all wanted restrictions to be over, because this was the best way to avoid a third wave. He said it was better to lean slightly conservative than open too fast, too early.
"Having said that, what the community's demonstrated the last few weeks - physical distancing, wearing masks, starting to open the economy - has shown we can do the right thing. We have been able to change behaviour," Mr Poulton said.
"I don't think there should be a date. As soon as we're ready, and our responsible actions show we're ready, then we should safely move out of restrictions further. We always should have safety in mind and that long-term view."
The government's final step will still have quotas on indoor venues and with record keeping and cleaning. Weddings and funerals will bump up to 50 people, or 20 in a private residence. This is when gyms and dance studios will come back into play.
Beauty therapists had an early win last week with approval to start trading but with restrictions on treatments, including clients to wear a masks at all times.
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