Locked-down Victorians to pay if they stray from home

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Locked-down Victorians will be fined $1652 for travelling out of their neighbourhood to exercise, under a strict new coronavirus regime.

In a significant shift, the state government has issued clarified advice which explicitly limits where people can pursue outdoor recreational activities such as walking, jogging, cycling, playing golf and fishing.

When metropolitan Melbourne and the Mitchell Shire moved back to stage three restrictions last week, Premier Daniel Andrews reassured people they would still be free to travel within the lockdown zone for exercise or recreational activities.

Asked if residents could leave their local government area to fish, play golf, or surf, the Premier said it was allowed under the rules.

“There is not a local government requirement but it’s got to be in metropolitan Melbourne,” he said.

“You can’t be going fishing outside the metropolitan area. Regional Victoria has very, very few cases. This is designed to keep it that way.”

But now, all Melburnians and residents of Mitchell Shire are banned from travelling to exercise if there are ­facilities closer to home.

It means suburban Melburnians will no longer be able to drive to the Tan track to walk or jog, instead being forced to exercise in their nearest park.

And cyclists must ride their closest trails, rather than loading the bikes on the car to visit one of the city’s popular routes.

The government issued the following clarification: “Unreasonable travel would include travel within the restricted area to exercise or outdoor recreation where that type of exercise can be done closer to home.”

Last Tuesday, Premier Daniel Andrews urged Victorians to follow the advice including not leaving metropolitan Melbourne.

“You can’t be going fishing outside the metropolitan area, down into regional Victoria,” he said.

“Regional Victoria has very, very few cases and vast parts of regional Victoria have no cases. “This is designed to keep it that way.”

The government has also stated Melburnians who have escaped to holiday homes must remain there until the stage three lockdown ends.

But restaurants and other service providers in regional Victoria will still have the right to ask to see customers’ driving licences — and then insist they can only use takeaway services if they have come from the lockdown zone.

Police issued another $107,000 in fines in the 24 hours to Thursday to people caught defying Melbourne’s lockdown, including five people at a short-stay rental apartment in the CBD.

It comes as new data revealed Victorians were continuing to flock to the Mornington Peninsula despite the non-essential travel ban.

Traffic data analysis has revealed traffic across the peninsula is exceeding normal levels, sparking concern among authorities. There has been no change to traffic levels since the new lockdowns, which affect five million Victorians, came into force last week.

Ahead of the new restrictions, traffic levels in the area were already significantly higher compared to normal levels with Blairgowrie, Rye and Capel Sound the busiest.

The data has revealed increased traffic by locals and visitors to the area. Traffic counts were recorded through road sensors on arterial roads.

When the new lockdown restrictions came into force there were no active COVID-19 cases on the Mornington Peninsula, which is considered part of metropolitan Melbourne.

But on Thursday night there were seven active cases on the peninsula.

Locals had feared Melburnians would use the area to escape the city and serve out their six weeks of lockdown.

Mornington Peninsula Shire mayor Sam Hearn said many holiday home owners had headed to the area during the first wave of restrictions.

“For all of us, staying home and staying local is the best thing we can do right now to beat COVID-19, and this really helps protect areas such as the Peninsula that haven’t had the level of infection transmission we are seeing in hot spot suburbs,” he said.

“It’s a big help that the state government listened to our concerns and over the weekend strengthened and improved the guidance and restrictions on travel for daily exercise. This removes the risk of a constant flow of traffic ­between suburbs closer to the city and the Mornington Peninsula.”

Prime Minister Scott Morrison said on Thursday Victoria’s outbreak was a “big setback” for the nation’s recovery. “The extent of the outbreak in Victoria is beyond what we would have, hoped would have occurred,” he said.

“The Victorian situation is very concerning. But as I think the Chief Health Officer in Victoria was remarking … they are, I think, hopeful that what we are seeing is those figures starting to level out.”

WHERE YOU CAN AND CAN’T GO TO STRETCH YOUR LEGS

Updated advice: Victorians must exercise and shop as close to home as possible.

My favourite coffee shop is three suburbs away. Can I go there?

No. You should go to the one closest to your home.

I live in Spotswood but go walking around the Tan because I feel safe there. Can I continue to do this?

No. You should go walking at your nearest safe place.

I am a member of a golf course 15km away but there is a public course around the corner from my house. Where am I allowed to play?

If you are a member of a sporting club, you can attend. This does not apply if it involves entering regional Victoria from Melbourne.

I live in Coburg but I love exercising around the Botanical Gardens. is this OK?

No. You should exercise in the park closest to your home.

I want to take the kids to the next suburb for a bike ride. Can I drive there and then go riding?

No. You should bike ride at the closest available location to your home.

I’ve been looking forward to doing the Bay Trail bike ride but I live in Mulgrave. Can
I drive my car down to hit the trail?

No. You should go to your closest bike trail.

How far away from my house can I ride my bike, power walk, jog or run?

You should show common sense and go the minimum distance to achieve your exercise needs.

My closest fishing spot is not as good as my favourite one 15km away. Can I go there?

No, you should go to the place closest to home.

KEY HOTEL QUARANTINE DATA KEPT SECRET

Victorian authorities have refused to say who has ordered genomic sequencing that could reveal the number of cases linked to hotel quarantine be kept secret.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton said on Thursday he had no hand in the decision not to release the information, pending a judicial inquiry.

“It’s not my call to keep it under wraps,” Dr Sutton said.

“It’s not my genomic ­sequencing data to share for starters, it belongs to the Peter Doherty Institute, who are doing the sequencing.”

On June 30, Premier Daniel Andrews ordered a judicial ­inquiry into the bungled quarantine program, saying ­genomic sequencing had linked a “significant” number of cases to the hotels.

But the government has since refused to release up­dated data that would reveal the extent of the virus leak.

Asked on Thursday whose decision it was not to release the latest data, the Department of Health and Human Services said: “The genomic sequencing data will be subject to the ­judicial inquiry and as such it’s not appropriate for us to discuss or provide it until it has been through that process.”

The Doherty Institute said the latest data was the subject of a judicial inquiry and “it’s not appropriate to discuss publicly until it’s gone through that process”.

The inquiry, headed by former judge Jennifer Coate, will hold its first public hearing on Monday, with findings due in late September.

It has appealed for anyone with relevant information to come forward as it probes government decisions and communication, as well as allegations of illegal cash payments to guards and billing rorts exposed in the quarantine debacle.

Opposition health spokeswoman Georgie Crozier said the lack of transparency in Victoria was concerning.

Ms Crozier revealed the government responded to a Freedom of Information ­request on the 111-case Cedar Meats cluster by releasing entirely redacted documents.

Bizarrely, among the blanked out pages was publicly available information, such as office addresses.

“It just demonstrates more secrecy,” Ms Crozier said.

“NSW are being open an transparent to their community but Victorians are kept in the dark.”

SCHOOLS AT RISK ORDER KIDS TO RETURN

Schools are refusing to cater for kids in lockdown areas who want to learn from home, despite escalating fears among some parents about the safety of campuses.

This includes years 11 and 12 VCE and VCAL students and pupils at specialist schools who have been ordered back to school this week.

Parents are being told children cannot study from home unless they have a medical certificate showing they are in a vulnerable health category.

It comes as attendance at specialist schools is down a third to a half amid concerns about the lack of social distancing among students.

One specialist teacher said she felt parents “didn’t care if she lived or died” because they sent their children to school.

Schools such as Penola Catholic College, which has had a student with the virus, told parents in a letter “all students are required to attend”.

At Rosehill Secondary College in Niddrie, parents were told all had to attend once a year level had returned.

Both schools were contacted for comment.

MONASH TO SHED 300 JOBS IN PANDEMIC FALLOUT

Almost 300 permanent jobs will be lost from Monash University’s four campuses because of the impact of the coronavirus on international student numbers.

The university announced that 277 – 105 academic and 172 professional – jobs would be cut by the end of year.

A Monash spokeswoman said a change to the university’s enterprise agreement had reduced the job loss numbers.

The university made a temporary variation to its EA including voluntary separation packages, a five-day leave purchase scheme, no bonuses for 2020, staff to use up excess leave balances and no pay increases until mid 2021.

Senior management had also taken a 20 per cent pay cut.

Without the EA change, the total job loss number would have been 467, the spokeswoman said.

Monash’s announcement follows news that the University of New South Wales would shed 493 jobs and merge faculties.

The revelations come as more than 7000 job losses are expected at Victoria’s nine universities because of the pandemic.

But the actual figure was feared to be much higher.

Many unis simply won’t renew casual staff contracts in a sector reeling from the significant loss of international student fees.

Data from the National Tertiary Education Union showed about 7700 higher education jobs were being lost in Victoria through redundancies.

Victorian assistant secretary of the NTEU Sarah Roberts said it was difficult to chart actual numbers because often the universities reported differently and only listed permanent staff being laid off not the non-renewal of contracts.

“The first cab of the rank in universities to cut costs was to not renew casual contracts,’’ Ms Roberts said.

“The estimation of 20,000 to 30,000 job losses nationally looks like being a huge understatement.’’

Ms Roberts said about 73 per cent of university staff employed in Victoria were classified as “insecurely employed”.

International Education Association of Australia chief executive Phil Honeywood said Victoria’s $11 billion education industry was struggling because of the absence of overseas, fee-paying students.

“According to federal government figures, 240,000 Australians work in the international education industry and Victoria would account for 25 per cent of those jobs,’’ Mr Honeywood said.

About one third of the sector were private providers.

A planned pilot program to bring back students with existing visas had been shelved because of the latest coronavirus outbreaks.

– Ian Royall

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