Mayoral Column - Loddon Shire

AS we move into another week of restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I am conscious of the need for all of us to stay connected and ensure that we are sharing information.

We have all been directed to stay at home to limit the spread of the virus. By staying at home and limiting your contact with other people, we can help our family and friends stay safe.

If you can stay home, you must stay home. There are only four reasons to leave your home: to shop for essential items, for medical or compassionate needs, to exercise while complying with public gathering requirements and to work and study if you can’t do that at home.

We must all change our behaviour to help slow the spread COVID-19. People should stop looking for loop holes and do the right thing, to help save lives.

All recreational activities beyond basic exercise are now banned. This includes fishing, hunting, boating, camping and golf. All playgrounds, public parks, outside exercise equipment, BBQ facilities, water drinking fountains, picnic shelters and tables, rotundas, toilets and viewing platforms are also closed until further notice.

This year, Easter will be very different from what we are used to. Social distancing must continue and everyone must stay home and not undertake unnecessary travel, including camping, visiting friends and other social gatherings.

Churches and other places of worship remain closed to the public. People who are used to attending religious services for Easter will be able to engage via livestream and some services will be broadcast on television. Contact your church or institution to find out what is planned.

Primary and secondary students will return to their studies this week with modified arrangements to allow students to learn from home. The Government will ensure that all students have access to the internet and other resources so that no one is disadvantaged. For senior students, changes to the VCE, VET and VCAL programs will reflect the disruptions of this year.

In order to slow the spread of coronavirus, the message to students and parents is clear: all children who can learn at home must learn from home – with exceptions only in extremely limited circumstances.

The Department of Health and Human Services is the best place to stay informed about COVID-19. Factsheets and promotional materials may be found in plain English as well as translated into many languages for those from culturally and linguistically diverse backgrounds. Visit https://www.dhhs.vic.gov.au/translated-resources-coronavirus-disease-covid-19 for the factsheets.

As well as ensuring the continued delivery of essential services, at Loddon Shire Council we are doing everything we can to assist those suffering financial hardship as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. We are working to assist residents, businesses and the wider community by developing a financial response package.

Council has developed COVID-19 Financial Hardship Guidelines aimed at providing assistance to those ratepayers who are experiencing difficulty in meeting the rate payment deadlines.

For those suffering financial hardship there will be assistance in establishing payment plans for both overdue and upcoming 2020/21 rates and charges, waived interest on overdue rates and waste charges from 16 March 2020 until 30 June 2021 and a hold on legal action for the collection of rates and charges.

Council has a dedicated web page with all of the latest updates and links relating to our response to COVID-19, including links to Government announcements: https://www.loddon.vic.gov.au/covid-19. Another way to stay informed is by following our Facebook page: https://www.facebook.com/LoddonShire/.

Support our local business

Last week I mentioned how innovative cafés, general stores, takeaway shops and pubs in the Loddon Shire have been in response to new restrictions. Many of our other businesses have also had to find new and ground-breaking ways to survive. For some it has been by increasing their online presence, others have set up a Facebook shop and others are reinventing the products they can offer. Our businesses are showing that they can adapt in these challenging times.

When shopping from the comfort of your own home, make sure you remember to support our wonderful Loddon businesses and the great range of original and quality goods that are available. To browse some of the diverse offerings, check out https://www.facebook.com/Visitloddonvalley/.

Check your smoke alarm

While we do our part by staying at home to slow the spread of coronavirus, firefighters are reminding people to add checking their smoke alarms to the list of jobs to do while at home. Only a working smoke alarm will alert you and your loved ones in the event of a fire.

It is important to test smoke alarms and clean them regularly. It only takes a few minutes to clean and then test the smoke alarm by pushing the button.

Those working from home are also reminded not to overload power-boards and turn off electrical appliances when not in use. Don’t leave electronic equipment like laptops and phones sitting or charging on beds. To download a free safety booklet, go to the CFA website http://www.mfb.vic.gov.au/Community/Home-Safety/Home-Fire-Safety-Booklet.html.

Relief package for energy customers

The electricity and gas network businesses have committed to delivering support for customers enduring hardships as a result of COVID-19.

Powercor has announced a relief package for small business and residential customers who have been impacted or temporarily ceased trading as a result of the pandemic.

This package provides direct support for affected small business and residential customers impacted by COVID-19 and will assist those facing hardships. The support is backdated to provide eligible customers with relief from 1 April 2020.

In addition, households and businesses facing economic hardship are protected from having their gas or electricity disconnected and need to contact their energy provider to work out a manageable plan.

Cheryl McKinnon - Mayor Loddon Shire