There will be no ring of steel enforcing a border around Melbourne where the lockdown will continue, however, police said they would monitor the roads for people leaving the city.
Premier Daniel Andrews said there would be “focused and targeted” measures in the future if cases were recorded in regional communities, raising the prospect of location-specific restrictions rather than statewide lockdowns.
Mr Andrews praised regional residents for their work in preventing widespread cases outside of Melbourne. But he warned restrictions had to be released slowly.
“It’s not a snap back. It’s not freedom day,” he said.
The state recorded 221 new coronavirus cases on Wednesday, with five in regional Victoria.
Greater Shepparton – which currently has 83 active COVID-19 cases – will not join the rest of regional Victoria in reopening, but Mr Andrews said he hoped the city would catch up next week.
Shepparton recorded no new cases on Wednesday, but there are still some day-13 tests that need to be processed for those in isolation.
Mayor Kim O’Keeffe was not surprised her city remained in lockdown but said the situation looked promising, with vaccinations increasing and people following the rules.
“We want to get out sooner than later, but we want to make sure when we do get out, we stay out,” she said.
The government also pledged to help Victorians stranded in border communities by establishing a new permit exemption category. To get home, they will have to show evidence of a negative COVID-19 test result and at least one vaccination dose.
Victoria Police Deputy Commissioner Rick Nugent said more than 200 officers would patrol the arterial and back roads around Melbourne to make sure residents, except for permitted workers, remained in the city.
“There’s a really good chance you’re going to be intercepted if you try to get through these checkpoints,” he said.
Victorian Tourism Industry Council chief executive Felicia Mariani said regional businesses still needed financial support because many relied on visitors from Melbourne for most of their revenue.
“Many businesses will be seriously considering the viability of reopening,” she said.
In a submission to the state government, industry body Restaurant & Catering Australia called for a trial reopening of hospitality venues in areas of Melbourne that had low case numbers and high vaccination rates in October.
Shadow spokesman for regional Victoria Peter Walsh said the government had walked back its policy of “destructive statewide lockdowns”.
“Lockdowns should only be a last resort, but Daniel Andrews’ policy of using them – statewide – as a first response has left Victorians losing hope we’ll ever get out of this,” he said.
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