WE’RE all in this together. We can all appreciate the sentiment behind this statement, but there are many situations where this platitude ought not to apply.
The Covid-19 pandemic has repeatedly shown the differences in risk levels associated with factors such as age, health and postcode.
But state governments are ignoring these nuances. Regional Victorians continue to suffer under directives from a government that shows no understanding of regional life and communities.
In most areas of regional Victoria there has not been a case of Covid-19 in 14 months, including in Mildura, a town of 50,000 people that is more than 550km away from Melbourne. The fact that regional communities are continually included in restrictions and closures beggars belief.
This fourth lockdown has pushed businesses and individuals to breaking point. Small towns where business is far from booming have seen numerous doors shut for the last time. This is unjustifiable and must stop.
Lockdowns in regional areas ought to be the last port of call, not the first. There has been no epidemiological evidence provided at any point that supports the lockdown of regional Victoria.
Deakin University chair in epidemiology Catherine Bennett said evaluation of the growing data sets from previous state lockdowns was proving they were an unnecessary safety net, required only in extreme circumstances. In relation to the current lockdown, she said there was no evidence showing why the restrictions should apply to regional Victorians.
From the perspective of the commonwealth government, a trigger for consideration of a hot spot in a regional area is a rolling three-day average of three locally acquired cases per day.
This threshold had not been reached when the Victorian government locked down the entire state two weeks ago. In fact, regional Victoria did not have asingle case of community spread.
Our regions are treated with disdain and repeatedly penalised by the Victorian government. Hundreds, if not thousands, of people have been out of work in regional towns.
This is not fair and does not reflect the reality of the lack of Covid in the regions.
John Hollywood owns four Club Aquarius gyms in Mildura, and has 30 staff who were not paid through the two weeks of lockdown and restrictions, because gyms were barred from reopening. His liability has been $25,000 a week.
The Irymple Hotel could not open its main bar due to density restrictions and was forced to reduce its staff numbers significantly. The pub opened last week, not to make a profit but to employ its casual workers.
Businesses like Mallee Foods did not qualify for the recent Victorian government’s Circuit Breaker Business Support Package, just as with other food service businesses. These business owners, who supply cafes, pubs, clubs and accommodation venues, are staggered they were left out.
The 130-year-old Grand Hotel in Mildura has been bleeding tens of thousands of dollars a day due to hundreds of cancellations as a result of lockdowns. Some 35 staff have been laid off, leaving just five to manage one of the oldest businesses in Mildura.
Businesses and individuals have been brought to their knees, and for what? With no Covid for 14 months, there is no justification.
The state government must come to a point of trusting its testing and tracing mechanisms.
We do need to bring in lockdowns, but only for the people who have a real risk of exposure to the virus. We need to trust systems we have in place to handle these outbreaks, instead of resorting to snap all-in lockdowns.
Compounding these issues are border restrictions from other state governments that are unnecessarily restricting the movement of regional Victorians once more.
Sandra still cannot travel to Queensland to be with her husband Ross who suffered serious injuries after a workplace accident that left him in intensive care. At the time of writing, the Queensland government had not even responded to her request for an exemption. There is no Covid-19 where Sandra lives, and has not been for many months.
Hundreds of competitors and supporters taking part in the Finke Desert Rally had their plans disrupted because of the Northern Territory government’s decision to close its border to regional Victoria.
Finally the NT government saw sense this week and reduced its restrictions for regional Victorians. Other states need to follow suit.
There is no question regional communities are disproportionately affected by excessive lockdown measures and border closures, which have caused needless stress for thousands.
We need to ensure that state measures to control the virus are cognisant of the unique aspects of regional life.
And Victorians need to get the jab. There is no other choice. “Do it for your country” has never had more significance.