News Coronavirus Victoria happy to see the back of ‘ring of steel’ restriction
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Victoria happy to see the back of ‘ring of steel’ restriction

Melbourne cafes
Hospitality businesses will now be able to seat 40 people inside and 70 outside, under restriction easings. Photo: Getty
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As Joe Biden announced he was going to “unify America”, Daniel Andrews announced Victoria was once again “united”.

The Premier on Sunday struck down the ‘ring of steel’ that has segregated metro Melbourne from the rest of Victoria since the start of July.

The ring was no more, as of 11.59pm on Sunday.

“Victoria will be once again united as one single state,” Mr Andrews said at his morning press conference.

With travel unrestricted in the state, Victoria’s tourism industry is now eagerly awaiting a business boost.

Felicia Mariani, chief executive of the Victoria Tourism Industry Council, said it was news operators had been waiting for.

“Regional Victoria needs people from Melbourne travelling across our state to fully kickstart any hope of recovery,” Ms Mariani said.

That’s especially true for regions like Gippsland and the high country, which were reeling from disastrous bushfires last summer.

Gym bunnies jump for joy-ish

Sunday’s announcement also signalled the reopening of gyms and indoor sporting facilities.

Gyms can now host up to 20 people – a capacity that could be increased in the next round of announcements on November 22.

Gym owners are glad to finally welcome back their patrons, but some say the 20-person cap still creates an unfeasible business environment.

Gyms will be able to operate again, with a capped number of patrons.

Melbourne’s Chapel Street Precinct chairman Justin O’Donnell said the quota needed to be lifted urgently.

“Our health and fitness sector exists to look after our health and wellbeing, both physically and mentally. This is what they do for a living, so surely they can be trusted to do the right thing and look after our safety. Where is the trust?” Mr O’Donnell said.

I’ll (finally) take you to the movies

Cinemas and theatres have reopened with similar caps to gyms – 20 patrons, to be revised on November 22.

Chief health officer Brett Sutton was asked on Sunday why these facilities have a reasonably tight cap, versus restaurants, which move to 40 people indoors and 70 outdoors, from Sunday midnight.

“In a theatre you will be sitting there for an hour and a half, two hours continuously,” Professor Sutton said.

“The kind of monitoring that can happen in a hospitality venue is better – you can’t have someone walking through a cinema checking on distancing.”

Village Entertainment said its Victorian cinemas would start reopening from Thursday, with guests required to wear masks while not consuming food or drink and adhere to social distancing.

Critical of ‘reward’ for hard work

Not everyone was satisfied with Mr Andrews’ announcement on Sunday.

State Opposition Leader Michael O’Brien said Victorians were “rightly expecting more than they got”, citing the nine-day streak of zero new cases.

Following the line of repeated questioning from journalists during the press conference, Mr O’Brien also called for the rules around mandatory masks to be reviewed.

Mr Andrews consistently rebuffed questions from journos on this topic, saying masks were a cheap and effective insurance policy against COVID-19.

“Masks serve a very important purpose,” Mr Andrews said.

“Will they be with us forever? No. When we get a chance to make a change, then of course, we will. But at this stage, I am not announcing any changes to masks.”

Newly re-elected Melbourne Lord Mayor Sally Capp described Sunday’s announcements as “a significant step in the right direction” but wants a further expansion to patron limits for restaurants, cafes and pubs.

“It’s important we continue to advocate for more flexibility for the hospitality industry to increase capacity numbers sooner while still prioritising safety,” she tweeted.

Victorian Chamber of Commerce and Industry chief executive Paul Guerra said a plan is needed for the return of functions, events and office workers.

“Victoria needs a roadmap for the safe return of office workers to revitalise the CBD, with many businesses struggling to make ends meet,” he said in a statement.

Victoria’s restriction changes, effective from 11.59pm on Sunday, November 8

  • ‘Ring of steel’ gone, 25-kilometre travel limit removed
  • Restaurants, pubs and cafes able to host 40 people indoors and 70 outdoors
  • Indoor entertainment venues like movie theatres, galleries, museums and music halls can open with 20 people per space
  • Gyms and indoor sporting facilities to open for up to 20 people
  • Indoor sport for those 18 and under to recommence
  • Religious ceremonies and funerals can have 20 inside, and 50 allowed outside, but no changes for wedding limits
  • Community spaces like libraries or RSLs can have up to 20 indoors, with groups of up to 10 people
  • Accommodation facilities can reopen

-with AAP