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Events cancelled as State of Emergency declared

PRECAUTIONARY measures  to minimise the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus has led to the cancellation or postponement of community events as Premier Daniel Andrews declares a four week state of emergency.

Beginning from midday on yesterday, the new measures will make it illegal to hold non-essential gatherings of 500 or more people which aims to contain the spread of the virus.

According to the latest update from Victoria’s Department of Health and Human Services (DHHS), the current number of confirmed cases in the state stands at 71, although there are no confirmed cases yet in the Yarriambiack Shire.

The restriction on mass gatherings has disturbed normal event planning in the lead up to Easter, with a number of events either cancelled, postponed or in doubt.

As a result of the new restrictions, Warracknabeal’s Easter festival Y–Fest was cancelled over the weekend due to general public health concerns.

Yarriambiack Shire Councillor and Y–Fest Secretary Jean Wise said that a decision was made over the weekend after Prime Minister Scott Morrison convened chief medical officers from the states and territories to organise a national response.

“Once the announcement was made by the PM that non-essential gatherings of more than 500 people was not permitted, we decided that it was in the best interests of the community to cancel or postpone events.”

“We draw large crowds and we didn’t want to put the community at risk.”

“We have a duty of care to our community.”

As it currently stands, the street parade and busking events have been cancelled with the remaining event groups still deciding on whether to press ahead.

Event organisers will meet over the coming days to confirm to businesses and community groups whether they intend to continue as planned, alter  event arrangements, post-pone events, or cancel altogether.

“Each project has its own meeting where they decide if they think its best if they continue,” Cr Wise said.

“There are a lot of issues behind the scenes, little things that need to be sorted out.”

Smaller events such as the Beulah Hoof and Harvest, which expected to attract less than 500 people, have too been cancelled over concerns of the virus spread.

Beulah Historic Learning and Progress Association Secretary Barb Moore said the decision was made on Friday afternoon.

“It was the council that suggested the event be cancelled.”

“We were expecting people from far away, such as Melbourne, so it is best to take precaution.”

“At the moment, I don’t really know when we will reschedule but if we can hold it this year, we will definitely hold it this time next year.”

The 10th Rupanyup Dirt Music Festival has faced a similar fate, with the festival being postponed until next year.

Rupanyup Dirt Music Festival founding member Lynette Teasdale said that a decision was made on Friday to cancel the event before it became too much of a disruption.

“With warnings from the Federal Government, we decided on Friday that it was best if we cancelled this year’s event.”

“We’d rather get ahead of events and give people plenty of notice before they spent too much money coming out here.

“Even though we don’t quite get 500 people, the event has been growing for many years so it was better not to risk it.

“I knew that there were quite a few carloads coming over from NSW where they’ve had problems with infections, so that affected our considerations.

“We’d be silly to put the community’s elderly at risk from people coming from the bigger cities.”

The 2020 Horsham Country Music Festival, which was to be held from March 26 to 29, has also been cancelled.

“Sadly in view of Prime Minister Scott Morrison’s announcement yesterday, that all events with over 500 people attending have to cancel there events effective from Monday, we have had no other option that cancel the 2020 Horsham Country Music Festival,” said the festival’s coordinator Lyall Wheaton.  

Some other event’s have yet to liaise with the State Government to see what alternative arrangements can be made.

The Warracknabeal Racing Club board will meet tonight to discuss arrangements with Racing Victoria.

Warracknabeal Racing Club Chairperson Lance Huebner  said tonight’s committee meeting will look to find the best outcome possible.

“Because the State Government issued a notice which restricted non-essential gatherings, tonights meeting will look at whether we can still have meetings of less than 500 people.”

“At the moment, no one from the public is to attend race meetings until further notice. Only stable staff, trainers, stewards and TV crews can attend.”

“It’s a day by day proposition at the moment. A lot of this is out of our hands.”

“With racing, we have a lot of people travel in, so we are concerned about the impacts on the community, especially with the elderly population.”

Warracknabeal’s 53rd Annual Vintage Machinery Rally is also in doubt, with rally’s secretary Dale Stephen  saying its prospects remain bleak.

“At this stage there is a committee meeting tonight but like everything else it doesn’t look like it will happen.”

Members of the committee overseeing the 83rd Wimmera Easter Convention will decide on Sunday whether to press on with their long weekend service between April 10 and 13.   

The Warracknabeal markets, which are run by the Lion’s Club in the IGA car park, have also been postponed.     
Health

With precautionary measures sidelining non-essential events, essential services like the hospitals and aged care have started increasing their precautionary practices in order to contain the virus spread.

Rural Northwest Health Support Services Manager Jo Martin said that the rural public health service is in contact with the state’s health department which advises it on best practices for staff and volunteers.

“We are taking every precautionary measure with advice being given by the health department on an hour-by-hour basis.

“I can confirm that there are no known cases in the area.

“Although we are not expecting it imminently, we do prepare for the possibility and have a number of plans should it get to that point.”

Ms Martin also warned residents returning from overseas will need to self-isolate for the 14 days.

“Even if you feel okay, there is the possibility that you might be infected. The best way to prevent the virus spread.”

Visitation restrictions have been put in place at RNH in order to manage the virus’ spread.

“Clearly with elderly patients, we need to be careful that they don’t get infected from someone visiting.”

The DHHS has opened new beds to alleviate the pressure to the state’s health service, allowing more than 7,000 people to fast-track their elective surgeries.

Yesterday, the Health Minister Jenny Mikakos, alongside the Premier, announced that the State Government would spend $100 million to make sure the state’s health system could deal with an influx of patients.

“Our hospitals have been planning for this epidemic to ensure that they have the capacity to deal with an influx of patients with COVID-19,” the minister said.
School

Local schools have also begun restricting the movement of students, cancelling school excursions due to the virus.

Warracknabeal Primary School Principle Ben Tait said that the school had been in contact with the state’s education department.

“We received advice from the department to cancel students’ excursion for the foreseable future.

“I am disappointed that they feel like they are missing out - that they are going to miss out students - but the actions we are taking are in line with the department’s advice and it’s in their best interests.”

The emergency declaration has also brought into question whether schools would be shutdown state-wide, with the Australian Health Protection Principal Committee (AHPPC),  having met last Friday to discuss the appropriate response to the viral outbreak.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Dr Brett Sutton released a statement after the AHPPC meeting stating that preemptive school closures are would not be proportionate or effective.

“Broadly, the health advice on school closures from previous respiratory epidemics shows the health costs are often underestimated and the benefits are overestimated.

“For preemptive school closures to be effective, prolonged closure is required and it would be unclear when they could be re-opened. If there were still a large pool of susceptible students when schools are re-opened, there would be likely to be re-emergence of transmission in the community.”

However, state-wide school closures may still be considered a short-term option at a later point  should infection rates continue to peak.

Stimulus

Last Thursday, the Federal Government announced $17.6 billion stimulus package that is being targeted at businesses that have been affected by the coronavirus spread.

The package includes extending tax write-offs and payments for businesses, one-off social security payments and offering wage subsidy grants to employ apprentices.

The Prime Minister Scott Morrison said that the stimulus package was intended to help up to 6.5 million individuals and 3.5 million businesses stave off the economic impact from the virus.

“Our plan will back Australian households with a stimulus payment to boost growth, bolster domestic confidence and consumption, reduce cash flow pressures for businesses and support new investments to lift productivity.”

From March 30, around six million welfare recipients will have access to a one-off $750 social security payment available to pensioners, veterans, and other income support recipients, costing $4.8 billion.

The largest part of the stimulus package is the business cash payments and tax incentives which is estimated to cost $6.7 billion.

The measure will allow around 690,000 eligible small and medium businesses access between $2,000 and $25,000 in cash payments.

A further $1.3 billion has been set aside for small businesses to subsidise wages of apprentices and trainees between January and September 30.

Regional areas and affected industries like tourism, agriculture, and education will be assisted with a $1 billion measure aimed at assisting businesses reduce costs or find alternative export markets and promoting domestic tourism.

Another $3.2 billion business incentive is being offered by the government, allowing businesses with a turnover of less than $500 million to deduct  another 50 per cent off their assets.

The government has also lifted the instant asset write-off threshold from $30,000 to $150,000 for businesses with an aggregate annual turnover of less than $500 million, which is estimated to cost $700 million.

The package, which started on March 12, will continue     until 30 June 2020.

Cancelled events:
-YFest Easter Festival
-Beulah Hoof and Harvest
-Rupanyup Dirt Music Festival
-Warracknabeal Lion’s Club Market
-Dimboola Peter Taylor Barefoot Waterski Memorial
-Welcome to Warracknabeal