TWEAKING restrictions for regional Victoria is a chance to end blanket lockdowns while keeping much-needed control to buy us time, a leading epidemiologist says.
Deakin University epidemiology lead Catherine Bennett said the slight changes were a way to transition out of lockdowns and suppress risk while still trying to get COVID jabs in arms - particularly for those who have had little time to access vaccination yet.
From Friday, travel restrictions in regional Victoria (barring Greater Shepparton) are gone, retail is open and hospitality is back with limited dining.
But not everyone is happy with some business owners questioning the viability of opening up and the remnants of winter sporting competitions still in limbo.
Professor Bennett said these might be small steps from the state government, but hopefully these were small steps in the right direction to put an end to widespread lockdowns.
It's about being safe and sure: safe is important but so too is sure.Professor Catherine Bennett, Deakin University epidemiology lead
Regional Victoria had barely resurfaced to easing restrictions when plunged back into a hard lockdown by lunchtime on August 21.
Professor Bennett said going forward, localised lockdowns would depend on community response and pulling in close contacts quickly, closer to home and with a better understanding of risks. She said if a close contact was fully vaccinated, it might be that they just need to isolate until returning a negative response.
"It's about managing risk," Professor Bennett said. "It's about being safe and sure: safe is important but so too is sure.
"We want to feel we're progressing but we can bare it more to be a bit slower if we know where we're going. This allows for time to bring others in line even if we're not with zero COVID cases."
Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews has flagged these changes would likely stand until the month's end.
The Courier has estimated should Ballarat stick to its emerging full vaccination rate of 4.4 percentage point weekly growth, 80 per cent of eligible City of Ballarat residents will be double-dosed by the end of next month.
First dose vaccinations for City of Ballarat stood at 65.5 per cent of eligible people on Tuesday, while 44.1 per cent have also had a second dose.
Jabs open for children aged 12 to 15 from next week, which widens eligibility.
Professor Bennett said there was still a lot of general anxiety about easing restrictions too fast from people who had not been able to access a vaccination yet.
Pfizer for under-40s has only been available for three weeks and Ballarat Health Services is running a blitz for final year secondary school students, ahead of exams, until the end of next week.
"If we know we're doing it carefully [opening up], we can step vaccinations and step up the health response," Professor Bennett said. "We're shifting gears a bit, but we still have the control we need."
City of Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney said he was cautiously optimistic about the rule changes and while this was a great opportunity, it was important the community remain careful not to squander it.
If we do this right, it helps give Melbourne hope. We can show how it's done well and vaccinate up.City of Ballarat mayor Daniel Moloney
Cr Moloney said hopefully we were seeing the end to hard lockdowns but realistically, there were still months of hard work ahead.
"We need to make the most of our opportunity and to do that by wearing masks, QR codes, hand sanitising, physical distancing and showing our IDs [identification] when required. We need to continue to stay safe," Cr Moloney said.
"So far, so good - we've managed to abide by rules and also have a bit of good luck. Shepparton has shown us what can happen."
Cr Moloney also said some sectors had a right to question why some limits must remain, such as the fitness industry which had been allowed to operate in between lockdowns last month.
"If we do this right, it helps give Melbourne hope," Cr Moloney said "We can show how it's done well and vaccinate up."
If you are seeing this message you are a loyal digital subscriber to The Courier, as we made this story available only to subscribers. Thank you very much for your support and allowing us to continue telling Ballarat's story. We appreciate your support of journalism in our great city.