BALLARAT and regional churches remain divided as to whether or not services should be allowed to resume now capacity numbers have been increased at restaurants and bars.
On Sunday the state government moved to raise capacity for indoor venues to 40 people inside and up to 70 people outside throughout regional Victoria.
But churches have once again been left off the list, with still no weekly services and strict limits on numbers for weddings and funerals.
Assistant Priest at St Bernard's, Bacchus Marsh Father Marcus Goulding said the government had only "intensified the discrepancy between churches and other venues" with the changes to regional dine-in venues not extending to churches.
"People are really suffering out there," Father Marcus said. "It's a wellbeing issue and there's a big body of evidence around the world that faith is an important aspect of their wellbeing.
"The government's focus is so narrow on physical health and it's not being balanced with other aspects of good human health."
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But Ballarat's Anglican Bishop Garry Weatherill sees it differently.
"I'm not concerned but whatever the government has to say about religion, has to apply to all faiths," Bishop Garry said.
"Even within the Christian Church, there are huge varieties of practice. While I know that Anglican is highly compliant, not all groups are.
"Look at the United States and what's happened there with people refusing to wear masks and so forth.
"I feel sorry about it as I know how difficult it is and I wish it wasn't the case, but I can fully understand the government's lack of enthusiasm at this time.
"The government has made the decision and it is our role to be good citizens."
Ballarat Central Uniting Church Reverend Lauleti Tu'inauvai said while he was not representative of the whole Uniting Church, his personal opinion was a return to services would be beneficial for the community and his mostly elderly congregation.
"We also provide for, as well as the spiritual need for the people, it's also the basic needs, physical, psychological, they are needs that come from the church," he said.
"People are missing their friends, most of our members are over 70 and they want to come back and be around their friends and people.
"We're only allowed up to five in a church for streaming purposes, so it's difficult."
Vicar General of the Catholic Diocese of Ballarat Kevin Maloney said he understood why churches had been targeted as an 'unregulated group'.
"But a lot of people are finding it difficult," he said. "Stand on Dawson St and they allow 70 people into a pub, yet right across the road you're only allowed people outside for church services, there seems to be a bit of inconsistency there.
"Even 20 people inside would be good. We have to police it and we did it in the past. We can fit 50 comfortably in the cathedral social distancing."
In his daily press briefing on Monday, Premier Daniel Andrews said he had received correspondence from the Archbishop of Melbourne in the hours after Sunday's announcement.
"Whilst I'm not criticising His Grace for making comparisons between hospitality venues and churches, I think it is important to recognise - and I've made this point a few times - a licensed heavily-regulated environment like a cafe or a restaurant or a pub is very different to what might happen indoors in a faith setting," Mr Andrews said.
"They're different places. There may be a way that those faith groups - and not just the catholic church but others - they may be able to demonstrate to us that they can do this safely.
"The last thing you would want would be an outbreak among people coming together to celebrate mass or Friday prayers or whatever it might be.
"You would not want the virus to get into an environment like that. We'll try and see what we can do. But we fully acknowledge it's been a challenging year."
But Father Marcus is one to disagree saying churches were just as compliant as any other business.
"What is that evidence? If it is a genuine risk, show us the evidence and we can go from there," he said. "Churches have a culture of caring and concern for each other. Our younger members are acutely aware of older members who are at risk.
"We have all the contact tracing in place, we've all been complying and we would be able to immediately provide the government with all the details in case of any outbreak."
Changes in effect from now
- Hospitality venues can increase their capacity to 40 people (four groups of 10) inside and 70 people outside
- Two adults and dependents will be able to visit a home once a day - there will no longer be a social 'bubble' where you have to nominate just one household. Infants under 12 months are not included in this cap
- Libraries will reopen with a maximum of 20 people
- Outdoor religious gatherings up to 20 people (and 50 from November 1) - infants under 12 months not included in cap
- Indoor pools will open for people aged 18 and under for up to 20 swimmers
- One-on-one hydroptherapy will be allowed
- Households can visit care facilities (rather than one person at a time)
- Outdoor contact and non-contact sport: allowed for people 18 and under - Limited to minimum number of people to play and facilitate the activity (e.g. cricket may be played with two teams of eleven players and the necessary coaching personnel and umpires)
- Outdoor non-contact sport: allowed for adults - Limited to minimum number of people to play and facilitate the activity (e.g. cricket may be played with two teams of eleven players and the necessary coaching personnel and umpires) - Non-contact means participants must be able to maintain distance of 1.5m
- 'Ring of steel' to continue and being 'strengthened' according to the premier
Changes to come into effect from Wednesday
- Melbourne residents who own a house in regional Victoria can apply to regional councils for a permit so they can visit to prepare their homes for floods and fire. Read more about it HERE.
Changes to come into effect from November 1
- Non-contact indoor sport for under-18s - such as dance classes - will resume for up to 20 people
- Non-contact indoor community sport for under 18-year-olds: spectators limited to one parent, guardian or carer per child
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