"Regional Victoria needs to be open now. Absolutely now."
That is the blunt assessment of Lyn Rogers, owner of Cafe Red Cherry on Horsham's main street.
She believes the level of restrictions in regional Victoria has negatively impacted the city's business community, and that the roadmap Premier Daniel Andrews announced on Sunday will not do enough to reverse this.
Other Wimmera businesses have taken a more philosophical approach to the plan.
Hospitality businesses remain take away and delivery-only under the changes from September 13, while auctions remain online only and retail stores can open with customer restrictions.
More restrictions will be removed when the average number of new cases across Victoria over the previous 14 days are fewer than five per day, and the total number of new cases with an unknown source is zero.
There is no set date for this next phase.
Ms Rogers said businesses like hers needed definite dates to make plans.
"They say it depends on the figures, but in regional Victoria we're fine, so I don't know why Mr Andrews couldn't keep his word with (easing more restrictions) on the 13th," she said. "It's not giving us any hope at all really."
"If I wasn't mature age and I had money behind me, I would walk away: It's coming out of my pocket to stay open. I feel sorry for anybody younger in the industry that's struggling."
Ms Rogers said the Firebrace Street cafe had two employees on JobKeeper. She was working 60 hours a week to keep the cafe open, after her husband left the business to find other work to support the couple's income.
"Clark Rubber has shut down because they couldn't sell the business (after two and a half years), and the pandemic hasn't helped. We've got kids in Warrnambool and they were losing thousands each week and had to walk away from their business. There are probably others in town that have closed or are closing.
"I can see the suicide rate increasing tenfold. If the whole main street shuts down, how depressing is that? It's alright to say people can have a cup of coffee together at home, but you know what they'll be talking about."
Further up Firebrace Street, Macchia Jewellers' owner Dino Macchia said the second round of stage three restrictions had had minimal impact on his business. He expected the roadmap out of restrictions also not to hit too hard.
"Business hasn't been too bad," he said.
"During the first round, we panicked and shut for a bit, until we realised the rules meant we could open, so we didn't shut at all this time. Then when restrictions eased the first time, everyone came in and it was quite busy. It's very slow with people walking into the shop, but financially it's OK because I think people aren't panicking as much as they did the first time around.
"When restrictions ease, I think it will boom again and compensate for this quiet period. Generally, I'm not worried, and JobKeeper has been excellent."
Mr Macchia has hired three staff since the pandemic began, and was in the midst of expanding his business to Hamilton and moving premises to Naracoorte in South Australia. He said he had been rejected for a permit to cross the border four times.
Coller Rathgeber Property Group principal Tim Coller said the roadmaps announced would create "physical and mental health issues" for regional Victorian business owners.
"I know there will be people thinking about retiring that definitely will. There will be people that were looking at their businesses and saying 'Is this a financially viable proposition?' that now definitely will (say it isn't)," he said.
"The climbing out of this will be harder than the falling in for many businesses, and it will all play out in the next six to twelve months. There has been no assurance through this whole pandemic."
Hindmarsh Shire mayor Rob Gersch has previously called for fewer restrictions on areas with no cases, such as his council area. On Monday, he sympathised with the "hard decisions" the Premier had to make.
"I'm not sticking up for it completely, but what's the alternative? If we opened up and in a month's time and had to shut down again, I just think it wouldn't work," he said.
"The coffee shops and pubs are suffering, so I think if we can get restrictions back to normal, our little shops will be alright. Until that happens it's going to be very hard.
"There may be some that decide they've had enough and will throw in the towel, but I haven't heard of anyone in our area doing that at this stage."
Northern Grampians shire mayor Murray Emerson said he was "very disappointed" with the government's roadmap. He said the minor changes would make things difficult for the region's small business community.
"We will be abiding by what the state government's decisions are, but I can probably speak for everyone in saying we were hoping the lockdowns would have been relaxed more," he said.
"We are also concerned about the mental welfare of people who are isolated."
Farmers express abattoir concern
In a statement, Victorian Farmers Federation President David Jochinke said changes including a return to school for regional students would be well received by the farming community.
However, he said the organisation is concerned about the perceived "hard-nosed" approach to the meat processing sector.
"Our message on abattoirs hasn't changed and we are in lockstep with the meat processing sectoron this: we need to return to at least 80 percent processing capacity as soon as possible," MrJochinke said.
"The current proposal for all metropolitan and regional meat processing facilities to remain highly restricted until at least 23 November is simply not workable.
"If we don't get to 80 percent soon there will be lambs that cannot get processed, limited capacity toprocess grass fed beef and continued uncertainty in the pork and poultry industries that are already operating on a knife edge.
"The risk to animal welfare is just unpalatable. Add to that the potential impact on markets and the current proposal will be disastrous for industry and the food supply chain."
Last month, Luv A Duck chief executiveJames Thompson said staff would be back working at its Nhill processing plant five days a week from August 31.
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