“All of this is now occurring in the context that the Mornington Peninsula has now achieved zero cases in 14 days. This passes all the thresholds the State Government has set to move to Stage 3 to Stage 2 and even to Stage 1. At the same time, the (Government) has walled off the Peninsula from Melbourne while still declaring it to be part of Melbourne. On August 19 we received a letter from the chief health officer that clearly stated the rationale for our inclusion in metropolitan Melbourne’s Stage 4 occurred purely because of lines on an administrative map, and not because of any COVID-19-specific considerations: ‘Stage 4 restrictions were implemented across the (Health) Department’s metropolitan region, including all metropolitan local government areas. This includes Mornington Peninsula, despite the nomenclature of being a shire. All non-metropolitan region LGAs were not included in the Stage 4 restrictions.’
“Not only does this make no epidemiological sense, it has serious health risks on three fronts. First, there is a deep mental health risk of continued lockdown in areas that do not have city services. As the only major tourist area in Victoria not in Stage 2, we have large numbers of isolated seniors, hospitality workers trapped at home and tradespeople unable to work. The risk of depression and mental health challenges in an area with zero cases is extreme and unjustified. This is compounded by the fact that, contrary to many of the stereotypes we have seen held of the Peninsula, we have some of Victoria’s most disadvantaged and marginalised communities – with statistics like a 10 per cent higher rate of family violence than Greater Melbourne as well as the sixth highest rate of rough sleeping of all LGAs in the state. With zero cases now in 14 days, the greatest health risk is the ongoing lack of support and service provision for these vulnerable families and people.
“Secondly, the current lockdown exacerbates the future COVID health risk. Whereas other areas in regional Victoria are able to prepare now for greater numbers later, there is no capacity for Peninsula businesses to prepare and practise COVID-safe business plans now as they are simply locked down. In a similar way, we cannot begin to implement and test-drive COVID-safe systems across our townships and beaches with our local population ahead of greater visitation.
“Third, there is a deep safety and environmental health risk. We have a high number of vacant homes, and after massive recent rains and with warmer weather there will be huge unmanaged grass and bush growth in the lead-up to summer. The owners cannot visit these homes, nor can they employ maintenance people to work outside and alone under your current rules. In short, a massive bushfire risk is being created under the current restrictions. If owners cannot visit, then surely our restrictions can be eased so local tradespeople can operate alone outside to repair the house and remove undergrowth and fire hazards.”
Cr Hearn’s letter concludes: “We look forward to working with you constructively to achieve the very best outcomes for our community in the face of these challenges.”