Three Victorian country mayors have voiced their frustration over lockdowns in areas where there are no COVID-19 cases. 

Key points:

  • The Swan Hill, Gannawarra and Loddon shire mayors want lockdowns to be imposed using LGA borders
  • They say it is unfair their towns are in lockdown despite no COVID cases among their sparsely populated communities
  • Per square kilometre, the Swan Hill, Gannawarra and Loddon shires have fewer than four people, whereas Greater Melbourne has 500 people per square kilometre   

Mayors from the Swan Hill, Gannawarra and Loddon shires are calling for a new COVID-fighting restriction system, under which lockdowns would be imposed using Local Government Area (LGA) borders.

They want ID checks, masks and QR codes to be kept in place to allow more businesses in COVID-free towns to open so they can serve customers who live within their LGA.

All three mayors pointed to how sparsely populated their rural areas were.

Per square kilometre, the Swan Hill Rural City Council area has fewer than four people, the Gannawarra Shire has fewer than three, and the Loddon Shire has fewer than two people.

In Greater Melbourne there are about 500 people per square kilometre.

main street on a sunny day of a quiet country town - being Kerang

The main street of Kerang in the Gannawarra Shire, where there has only been two COVID-19 cases since the pandemic began.(

Supplied: Gannawarra Shire

)

Tailor rules to population density

The Swan Hill Rural City Council has written to both the state and federal governments, outlining a proposal for a three-tier system of rules based on the population density of individual areas.

The councillors want one set of rules for highly urbanised areas such as metropolitan Melbourne; a second set of rules for regional cities and peri-urban areas on the outskirts of Melbourne; and a third set of rules for rural Victoria.

“We’ve been locked down several times in Swan Hill and we haven’t had any cases since some at the start of the pandemic,” Cr Moar said.

“Mildura showed how quickly country communities respond.

man standing under a tree in a suit

Swan Hill Mayor Bill Moar says the council has written to the state government asking it to ease restrictions in the area.(

Supplied: Swan Hill Rural City Council

)

Promise to act swiftly

Gannawarra Shire Mayor Charlie Gillingham said he had also written to the state government to raise the issue.

“We implore the state government to give serious consideration to the communities of regional Victoria prior to imposing strict lockdowns as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic,” Cr Gillingham said. 

He said the trade-off would be a promise by the council to act swiftly if a case were to be detected in the area.

Loddon Shire Mayor Neil Beattie said the ongoing cost of lockdowns was hurting country towns.

“I’m not going to bag the government because all shires rely on governments for funding whether they’re left or right – but they’ve still got to listen to country people, and they’re not.

“It’s not logical for us to be locked down when we have no cases. But if a case did get in, we’d lock down Loddon Shire right away.”

drone shot of a country town with a lake, shops and a few cars parked

The Loddon-Mallee mayors want the state government to listen to the views of rural residents.(

Supplied: Gannawarra Shire

)

A Victorian government spokesperson said they understand everyone was making huge sacrifices and urged residents to continue getting vaccinated.

“Every change we make to restrictions is guided by the most up-to-date data and advice from the chief health officer.

“We want to make sure we run this outbreak to ground and return to normal as soon as possible.”

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Country mayors state their case for lockdown reprieve
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