Regional Victoria on alert as cases grow and testing increases

REGIONAL Victoria is on high alert today as coronavirus cases rise in rural areas.

Premier Daniel Andrews announced yesterday that testing centres will be rolled out in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo.

"We have seen some significant growth of cases in Geelong, Ballarat and Bendigo and that is of concern to us," Mr Andrews said.

There are currently 482 active cases outside of metropolitan Melbourne.

Meanwhile, Department of Health and Human Services has revised the Swan Hill local government area's total case number from six to five with no active cases confirmed.

Yesterday's daily case number of 278 is the lowest since 275 on July 20.

Deputy chief health officer Allen Cheng was asked if those three regional centres could be moved to stage four restrictions, as in Melbourne.

"I think we're looking at that very closely, it's a day-by-day proposition," he said.

"We really encourage the community to come forward and get tested so that we can get on top of these transmission chains and hopefully obviate the need for stage four."

Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews said the extra testing would give the government a fuller picture before making any decision on restrictions.

"Current sites are going to be open longer, there are additional testing sites," Mr Andrews said.

"That'll give us the data and that'll mean we can answer that question definitively."

Regional Victorians were being encouraged to get tested if they have even mild symptoms. These include fever, chills or sweats, cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, runny nose or a loss or change in sense of smell or taste.

The government also announced its coronavirus test isolation payment, for those who may be worried about missing wages, would be increased to $450.

Earlier this week, Mr Andrews urged regional Victorians to adhere to COVID-19 restrictions.

"You've done a great job in following these rules right across the pandemic, but it's very important that each and every regional Victorian stays the course with this," he said to regional Victorians.

"I know it's tough, I know it's challenging, I know we would prefer to be at a different set of circumstances, but even at low numbers, we've got to have that vigilance across the board so we can keep them low and drive them down even further."

Mr Andrews also said people needed to do everything they could to avoid travelling and only do so if there was no alternative.

He said this applied to Melbourne people travelling to the regions, as well as people going from the regions to Melbourne.

"I'd like to see as little movement as possible between regional Victoria and metropolitan Melbourne, both ways," he said.

"I think that people, particularly those who are coming to Melbourne from regional Victoria, they know and understand how important it is to keep this out of regional Victoria and keep the numbers really low."

Member for Northern Victoria Wendy Lovell said she had received "constant complaints" about the government's failure to monitor passengers on V/Line services or to stop people travelling for day trips and weekends at bed and breakfast accommodation.

Ms Lovell told State Parliament she wrote to Premier Daniel Andrews requesting additional screening measures be employed to reduce the possibility of the spread of COVID-19 into regional Victoria.

"In particular, I requested that the government do more to ensure those persons travelling from lockdown into non-lockdown areas within northern Victoria are doing so for essential reasons, that each person is properly screened for risk and that their movements are limited while in the non-lockdown areas," she said.

"When will the Premier introduce additional and adequate screening of lockdown residents travelling to non-lockdown areas within northern Victoria to assist with preventing the spread of the COVID-19 virus?"

Meanwhile, farmers have pleaded for agriculture permits and exemptions, as border shutdowns hit supply chains and spark fears of cost increases and food shortages.

Victorian Farmers Federation president David Jochinke said: "We don't farm for New South Wales, we don't farm for Victoria or South Australia — we farm for the whole country."

The South Australian Government will impose further restrictions along the Victorian border from August 21, while farmers and harvest contractors are facing massive barriers accessing NSW at harvest time due to restrictions forcing travel via Sydney airport.

"Victorian border communities are riding a rollercoaster of tightening restrictions that are making it impossible to access farms, education, hospitals and essential products and services," Member for Murray Plains Peter Walsh said.

"If Victorian farmers and contractors who migrate north each year for NSW harvest can't get exemptions to travel interstate — without going via Sydney — NSW farmers will be strapped for resources to get harvest off in time."