Regional Victoria could be stuck in a holding pattern on the road back to COVID normal awaiting Melbourne to play catch-up on the level of restrictions in place.
Victorian Health Minister Martin Foley said on Thursday the government's desire was for the entire state to be moving forward together with the same restrictions even though regional areas have had a head start in emerging from lockdown.
But regional businesses remain frustrated at the small additional numbers allowed at cafes, pubs and restaurants, up from 50 to 75 indoors, and country football-netball leagues can only have 150 at a venue forcing many including the Tallangatta and District, Ovens and King and Upper Murray competitions to put on hold a re-start.
Alpine ski resorts desperately require travel bans between city and regional areas to be lifted.
Asked by The Border Mail during a regional media briefing about what the next round of restrictions easing looks like for country communities, Mr Foley said: "We've seen nothing other than this slight ping in Bendigo to give us any cause for reconsidering that and we think that is on schedule.
"The goal is then, subject to the Melbourne epidemiology conditions, to try and bring the state back to one set of COVID-19 equivalent arrangements as soon as possible.
"It's over what period of time does the regions and Melbourne come back together.
"We saw it take quite an extensive period of time in 2020.
"Our hope is it wouldn't take anywhere near that period of time.
"We don't want to see the regions held back as it were.
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"We want to make sure the whole state moves forward, but if there is particular arguments as to why the regions should proceed, based on public health advice, then of course that would be the advice we would take."
Nationals deputy leader Steph Ryan said regional areas should already be back to COVID normal.
"The latest version of Labor's restrictions allows 50 people to visit a brothel while just 20 can gather for a child's birthday party in an outdoor park," she said.
"Meanwhile, heavy restrictions on community sport limiting spectators at open air football and netball games will leave many of our country clubs struggling to pay their bills.
"Yet Labor's sports minister has told the media that he has 'absolute confidence' that the AFL Grand Final will be played at the MCG."
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