A Victorian MP has expressed her dismay at huge crowds of people who flocked to a popular market over the weekend, seemingly disregarding social distancing amid multiple coronavirus outbreaks in the state.
Member for Macedon, Mary-Anne Thomas expressed her disappointment after seeing photos taken at markets in Daylesford, Victoria, a holiday town of 2,500 people in Ms Thomas’ electorate.
“I was shocked and very disappointed to see these photos on social media over the weekend,” Ms Thomas wrote on Facebook on Monday.
“Scenes like this in Daylesford are completely unacceptable, and while visitors are welcome you must follow the rules.”
The photos shared by Ms Thomas show people going about their business at the market, seemingly with little social distancing observed.
Victoria has seen a surge in coronavirus cases, causing the state government to roll back the easing of restrictions.
After multiple days of double-digit growth, the state now has more than 260 active cases, with over 2000 cases confirmed overall since the start of the outbreak.
As Victoria struggles to contain the outbreaks, identifying hotspots throughout the state and embarking on a testing blitz, the advice from elected officials has been uniform - keep your distance and practise good hygiene.
“Once again, to locals and visitors alike, please, please use common sense,” Ms Thomas added.
“Keep your distance and wash your hands. And if you see a crowd don't join it, walk away and protect your health and that of your loved ones.”
Ms Thomas’ post was inundated with people expressing their shock for the lack of social distancing.
“One would reasonably think that after six months of this pandemic, now with ten million people infected, nearly half million deceased worldwide, that people would become more cautious joining such a crowd,” one man said branding the situation “a disaster in the making”.
One woman said she saw social media posts from people who had come from virus ‘hotspots’ and were holidaying in Daylesford and were “happy” because they weren’t turned away.
“They should have been,” she said.
Just an hour and a half out of Melbourne, Daylesford is a ‘weekend town’ and usually attracts many people from the city to stay for a few days, with the Sunday Market proving to be quite popular.
Markets a ‘service, not a gathering’
Market stores are allowed to open in Victoria.
“People must maintain a physical distance of 1.5 metres from each other,” the. Victorian Government advises.
“The foursquare metre rule applies to indoor markets.”
Speaking to ABC news, Daylesford Sunday Market manager, Raoul Benedict said the photos made it look worse than it actually was.
During the lockdown, the market continued to operate, selling only essential items and people were being very cautious and keeping their distance.
“Now the problem is 90 per cent of people will distance, but then there's always 10 per cent … that want to hang around,” Mr Benedict told the ABC.
“I spend my day walking around telling people to distance and sanitise.”
On Saturday, the Daylesford Sunday Markets encouraged people to shop quickly as it was a “service not a gathering”.
The markets also said “Social distancing must be observed by all, 1.5 metres at all times”, encouraged people to sanitiser their hands before and after the markets and not attend if unwell.
“You must obey all current COVID-19 rules and regulations,” the market’s Facebook post in the lead up to Sunday said.
“Please support our small businesses and local producers.”
Earlier in June, the market said they had “a large number of visitors”, which resulted in the market keeping promotion to a minimum.
“The safety of the Hepburn Shire community is paramount and we are not alone in being concerned by the number of visitors to Daylesford and its surrounds at this crucial time,” the Daylesford market posted on June 24 on Facebook.
Local council ‘very disappointed’
Hepburn Shire also addressed the scenes at the markets, stating over the weekend, visitors came to the shire to visit the tourist attractions and echoed Ms Thomas’ disappointment, although did not specifically mention the Daylesford markets.
“We are very disappointed, and also acknowledge the disappointment and frustration of our community, at the lack of social distancing,” Hepburn Shire wrote on Facebook.
“We are equally concerned and are working with all responsible authorities to address the lack of social distancing in our shire and the risk that this creates.”
According to the state government’s figures, there are no active coronavirus cases in Hepburn Shire or Macedon Ranges, however, the latter borders Hume City Council, where there are 51 active coronavirus cases.
There are no travel restrictions in Victoria, and the state’s borders are open meaning residents are free to travel outside the state.
A ‘public health bushfire’
Victoria recorded 75 new virus cases on Monday, the fourth highest number since the pandemic began and the highest since March, with Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton warning “it will get worse before it gets better”.
On Tuesday, Victoria requested help from the Australian government in the form of 800 workers.
One hundred team leaders will support co-ordination of the community door knocking happening in hotspot suburbs, 500 staff will form part of those community engagement/door knocking teams and 200 clinical staff are being sent to fixed testing sites.
"This is a public health bushfire - just as we help out other states in summer, help is coming from across the nation now - and we are grateful for that," a Victorian government spokeswoman said in a statement.
A testing blitz is underway in Albanvale, Broadmeadows, Brunswick West, Hallam, Fawkner, Keilor Downs, Maidstone, Pakenham, Reservoir and Sunshine West, which have seen high levels of community transmission in recent weeks.
Putting suburbs into lockdown is an option, although Professor Sutton wants to see the results before determining which containment measures need to be implemented.
Professor Hamish McCallum from Griffith University said the state is experiencing a second wave of the virus.
"The question is whether it is a ripple, or the start of a tsunami," he said.
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