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Benalla keeps COVID-19 curve flat with no new cases since Thursday

By Simon Ruppert

While the worst might be yet to come, Australian communities doing the right things are flattening the COVID-19 curve.

Benalla rural city is a good example with no new cases confirmed since Thursday.

And we are in good company with other local districts including Wodonga, Wangaratta, Strathbogie, Mansfield and Shepparton also staying static.

The reason for this is obvious by taking a drive down Bridge St on a week day.

In an article a couple of week's ago I commented that I was shocked that Benalla CBD was as busy as it had been on any normal day

That is no longer the case.

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Even our supermarkets are noticeably less busy.

The panic shopping has dropped off, and the shelves are almost fully stocked.

The toilet paper aisle might still be bare from time to time, but it is being re-stocked often enough that we now rarely hear stories of people going without.

The vast majority of people are keeping their distance, coughing into their elbow and limiting their time in shops.

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And it is all having a positive effect.

Sadly we have had one confirmed death to COVID-19, just across the border, in Albury where a woman in her 80s passed away during the weekend.

And numbers of confirmed cases across the country are still increasing.

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One positive, however, is that they are increasing at a slower rate than in previous weeks.

On Tuesday the total cases of COVID-19 cases in Victoria was 1191, an increase of 33 from Monday.

Last week those daily figures were going up by more than 80 on some days.

The total number of currently identified cases included 623 men and 568 women aged from just months old to people in their 90s.

Of the cases in Victoria 93 are believed to been acquired through community transmission

We have seen a trend showing a slower rate of infection in rural and regional areas.

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Of the cases in Victoria more than 80 per cent are in Melbourne, with just 217 confirmed cases in the regions.

Which, while being reassuring to those of us outside the cities, can still be difficult with most of us having relatives or friends in more populous areas.

Being isolated from those people, who we know are at a higher risk, can make things difficult.

A number of local support groups have been set up on social media

However we also live in an era where staying connected without face-to-face interaction is easier than it has ever been.

One way we have seen our local Aged-Care facilities keep residents connected to family is through video-chat apps.

This is a great way for anyone in the community to keep in touch with those close to them.

In terms of identifying people who are infected Victoria has recently broadened its criteria for testing.

It now includes people whose employment and contact with the broader public may place them at higher risk of exposure to any virus that may be circulating in the community.

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If someone in the following categories displays clinical symptoms – a fever or acute respiratory infection – they will now be tested for COVID-19.

● Childcare and early childhood education;

● Primary or secondary schools; and

● Firefighters who are emergency medical responders; and

● People aged 65 years and older.

The full testing criteria list is available at this link.

Many people are now wearing face masks in public to help prevent them infecting others - just in case they are infected themselves.

Victoria’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton said the changes were aimed at striking a balance between identifying cases that were not linked to known travel or other risks and maintaining current suppression efforts targeted at returned travellers and contacts of current cases.

“The number of community acquired cases contracted from an unknown source are continuing to rise,” Professor Sutton said.

“The expansion of the testing criteria will allow us to get a clearer picture of how much the virus is circulating.

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“These new criteria do not mean our stage three restrictions should be relaxed. The reverse is true, we must continue these actions to flatten the curve.”

And while much of the news on COVID-19 has been depressing, this pandemic has, in many ways, brought out the best in the community.

The Ensign reported last week on two of the many local Facebook support pages set up in Benalla, and the ways they are helping our more vulnerable residents through this time.

We have people knocking on elderly neighbours doors and asking if they need anything from the shops.

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We have had people deliver food to those in smaller townships who can't get into Benalla.

And many more instances of goodwill.

It is the strength of community that will help many of us through to the other side.

Many people, like Rod Merriman who is a resident at the Royal Freemasons, are using video-chat apps to stay connected to family and friends.

And it is important to remember we will get through this - there is light at the end of the tunnel.

At some point the footy will start up, the cinemas will open, the cafes will be full and we will be socialising face-to-face.

Workplaces will reopen and those who lost their jobs will be re-employed.

The difficult thing for us as a community, and as a country, is not knowing when that will be.

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And there is no guarantee it will not get worse before it gets better.

That is why it is important for all of us to continue to do the right thing.

At the very least we are in a position to reduce the time it will take for things to return to normal.

The way to do that is to adhere to the advice of government - specifically the Department of Health and Human Services.

The World Health Organisation website is another source of useful information.

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In a time where misinformation is easily spread through online social media we ask that the community only takes advice from official sources such as these.

With advice changing from time to time it is also important to stay up to date with these resources.

Current advice from DHHS is that there are only four reasons for Victorians to leave their home: food and supplies, medical care and care giving, exercise, and work or education.

Professor Sutton said all travelers returning from overseas to Victoria would be placed in enforced quarantine for the self-isolation period of 14 days.

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Police have strong powers to enforce these directions and can issue on-the-spot fines, including up to $1652 for individuals and up to $9913 for businesses.

Under the State of Emergency people who don’t comply could also be taken to court and receive a fine of up to $20 000. Companies face fines of up to $100 000.

“Social distancing will save lives. Everyone needs to comply with restrictions in place to keep yourself, your loved ones and the whole community safe,” Professor Sutton said.

“Our message is clear: if you can stay home, you must stay home.”

The more we adhere to social distancing rules the quicker we can get back to normal

The Victorian Department of Health and Human Services has a hotline for public information on COVID-19, which is 1800 675 398.

Large numbers of calls can result in some delays and DHHS asks Victorians for their patience as they work to manage the volume.

Further information is also available at this link

It is also as important as ever for people to look after their mental health at this time.

If you are struggling or know someone who is there are a number of resources available including: Lifeline - 131 114 and Beyond Blue - 1300 224 636 or www.beyondblue.org.au