THE decision to release regional Victorians from harsh COVID-19 lockdown at midnight tonight has been welcomed by south-west residents and businesses.
With no exposure sites and no positive coronavirus wastewater detections outside Melbourne, Premier Daniel Andrews said on Monday the regions would be released from the strict stay-at-home orders.
"This is a good day for regional Victoria," he said.
Hospitality is back, with dining in allowed for up to 100 people per indoor space and density restrictions of one person per four square metres. Smaller venues can seat up to 25 people before density rules apply.
Chef Matthew McLeod from Warrnambool restaurant Salt said he was surprised and excited about the rule changes.
"I was blindsided, but really happy to be opening again," he said.
He said the restaurant would be open for dinner service tomorrow night.
"It's a little bit of a task to get back into full swing. We've got to get the kitchen back up and running and line up all the front of house staff."
Mr McLeod said all his suppliers were "extremely local and ready to go", so the menu would be built around whatever fresh regional produce they had.
Salt opened four months ago and has already dealt with two lockdowns. Mr McLeod said adaptability, both logistically and mentally, was key.
"I think mentally being able to snap in and out according to the different restrictions is the biggest thing, having an action plan in place so you can suddenly shift to takeaway and back."
For some small business owners, the uncertainty was beginning to take its toll.
Steph Weel launched her hairdressing salon Bonni and Clyde in June and while she has been booked solid the sudden shutdowns have still created headaches.
"When they suddenly shut down on Thursday we had to cancel our Friday and Saturday clients, so now we will have to find space for them but we are fully booked for weeks. There are clients we had to cancel last lockdown who we still haven't managed to fit in yet."
Ms Weel was about to cancel this week's appointments when the easing of restrictions was announced on Monday. She said she was happy to be opening again - hairdressers and personal services can open with one per four square metre density rules - but said she wasn't optimistic.
"I don't feel confident at all. It's that unknown, the pressure you feel for staff, not having control over the situation," she said.
"Rescheduling is going to be a big job. Luckily after so many lockdowns the clients understand."
St Joseph's Primary School principal Matthew O'Brien said after six lockdowns, his school community was getting the hang of the transition from remote learning back to school, and back again.
"It's good news for everyone: students, teachers and families," Mr O'Brien said.
"Everyone has been been going pretty well with it but the quick nature of the last couple of lockdowns made it a bit more difficult - both were called after the school had been closed."
The past six lockdowns have shown that for for some students, remote learning is a more enjoyable and productive experience than school.
However for most students it's been a challenge.
Mr O'Brien said even more attention was being paid to foundation and grade one students, with teachers pressed to make sure they didn't miss key numeracy and literacy skills early on in their development.
"It's definitely better for kids to be at school, learning is not just about the curriculum, it's a social thing: it's all the personal communication skills that go to belonging in a group that can't be developed while learning online," he said.
"While I haven't noticed any dramatic differences what I have noticed with the latest lockdown six is that people have been acknowledging this won't be the last one.
"With the earlier ones there was an understanding that if we get through this then everything will be OK.
"Now everyone's a lot more realistic even to the point we could be in and out really quickly and a normal week might be two days at home, three days at school, and we'll be prepared for every eventuality."
Premier Daniel Andrews said lockdowns would be a fixture of life until the state reached 70 to 80 per cent vaccination rates.
Moving forward in the south-west, the most important thing was to be vigilant of the well-being of the whole community, Mr O'Brien said.
"We need to be conscious of our neighbours, colleagues and our own well-being and be ready to lean on someone and give someone else a lift if they need it.
"We all need to look out for each other at the moment.
"It's important for parents to let kids know this might happen again and it's OK, we've done it before and we'll do it again and we'll get through it together."
On Monday, The Standard's readers celebrated the news, particularly given the south-west hasn't recorded a positive COVID-19 case since September last year.
- "We have had more stringent restrictions than the hot spots in NSW... ours are ending as theirs continue" - George Dummett
- "Well done regional Victoria" - Heather Taylor
- "Hooray, now I can travel to beautiful Warrnambool" - Diana Aquilina
- "I am so happy for them!" - Anne Heyes
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