Safety and support vital despite brighter days ahead

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As the second wave of COVID-19 has receded, there have been some notable moments to celebrate. The state's 14-day rolling case average hitting zero, and two weeks of "double doughnut" days on Friday, is certainly one of them.

Premier Daniel Andrews reminded Victorians that the 14 days is no vaccine, but as the easing of restrictions continues and people acclimatise to post-lockdown life, the infection-free period should offer some confidence. This year, Christmas should be a day that can be physically shared with family and friends. Like never before, that will mean a lot.

People are starting to return to the city, but will it be enough?Credit:Joe Armao

Of course, it comes with provisos. As the "daily Dan" media conferences and the threat of police fines for any departure from the rules have abated, the responsibility of keeping us safe falls on every Victorian as an individual. The recent high COVID-19 testing numbers should give some assurance that we have not dropped our guard. And even a cursory glimpse of the situation in Europe and America, with infection and death toll numbers rapidly growing again, should provide a grim reminder of the continuing dangers of this virus.

And now, after much crystal-ball gazing about how life in Melbourne post-lockdown might look, we'll be able to see how that need for individual responsibility affects the shape of our city and the habits of its citizens. Data revealed today shows that while people are happily returning to their cars to get around, they are reluctant to take a train, tram or bus. While road use is almost back to pre-COVID density, the number of commuters heading into the city via Flinders Street Station has dropped by more than 90 per cent compared to last year.

For a city that is heavily reliant on its public transport network to stave off congestion on our roads, that is a major problem. And when you consider that most city office workers are still spending their days at home, any move to bring people back into the CBD may only exacerbate the problem.

The government must set out a clearer path to meet this challenge Giving people the confidence to return to public transport should be a high priority.

There is some urgency. Newly re-elected Melbourne lord mayor Sally Capp has made it clear that many businesses in the city centre – businesses that often rely on office workers to consume their goods and services, and which were hit hardest by the pandemic – are in "make or break" territory during the next few months.

With the "ring of steel" recently being removed and many Melburnians expected to head into regional areas for the first time this weekend, there are sure to be many more businesses throughout the state that will be grateful for extra people coming through their doors.

Keeping as many people in work, and as many businesses trading, will be a crucial factor in a strong economic recovery once the pandemic is behind us. In this regard, the possibility of an earlier than expected rollout of a vaccine is very much to be welcomed.

Even the careful freedoms we are now allowing ourselves mean the days ahead are going to be better than those Victorians have endured. But many will not easily forget, and the scars for those who lost loved ones in such dire circumstances will take time to heal.

Among the things we have learned is that Victorians have incredible resilience and a capacity to unite for a common purpose. Now that the worst is hopefully behind us, that same commitment should put us in good stead to keep everyone safe and to ensure those that have suffered get the support they need.

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