Byron Bay Mayor says backpackers arriving on buses ‘completely inappropriate’ amid COVID-19 outbreak


March 26, 2020 17:36:53

Residents of some regional New South Wales towns that took an economic hit during the recent bushfires are pleading with tourists to stay away regardless, the concern being visitors might bring coronavirus with them.

The message from governments and tourism bodies is to “stay at home”, but coastal residents say people are not heeding the warnings, forcing them to take desperate measures.

Byron Bay Shire Mayor Simon Richardson said he would like to see people stopped from coming into the community altogether and called on the NSW Government to stop buses.

“Having 50-odd backpackers sitting on a bus for 11 hours to escape the big city and come to Byron is completely inappropriate,” Councillor Richardson said.

“It is unhelpful for our community, and if we don’t want people to congregate and we don’t want people to visit, lets stop the opportunity for them to do so.”

On NSW’s South Coast, Sharon Deadman, owner of Ray White Real Estate in Bendalong, said she had cancelled all bookings until May 1.

“As much as we love having all the extra people around, at the moment we do have a lot of vulnerable people in the community,” Ms Deadman said.

“I think its just a responsible thing on our behalf not to take any more bookings until the worst of this is over.

“We do want people to come back, but it needs to be at a safer time.”

It is a sentiment being echoed around the state.

Caravaners ‘are not welcome’

In the Kempsey shire on the Mid-North Coast, caravan parks have been directed to close by the local council.

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General manager of the Kempsey Shire, Craig Milburn, said this was at the request of the community.

“We’ve heard the concerns of the community, and we understand,” Mr Milburn said.

“They are not welcome.”

North-Coast-based Liberal MLC, Catherine Cusack, has called for the closures to be mandatory.

She said the experience in Spain shows people can be tempted to flee urban areas with high rates of coronavirus.

“We have to stop the influx of — and this is a very hard word to use — but refugees, people fleeing from urban areas where we have the coronavirus, wanting to come to regional destinations,” Ms Cusack said.

“That is almost a guaranteed way of bringing it into our region.”

In Jervis Bay, Booderee National Park has closed after consultation with traditional land owners, until May, with no campers or visitors allowed through the gates.

There were concerns visitors would bring coronavirus into vulnerable Aboriginal communities, such as Wreck Bay.

But the closures are not consistent around NSW.

While some places have heeded the warnings to close, others are continuing to take bookings.

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Further south, Depot Beach campground in the Murramarang National Park, is almost booked out this weekend.

Other accommodation providers in the Shoalhaven have indicated through social media that they will stay open, until they are directed to close.

Vulnerable people at risk

In Lake Conjola on the South Coast, the town is still reeling from the impact of bushfires, then floods and some locals are desperate for the economic boost they had hoped would come with the Easter holidays.

But many residents are retirees who fall into the high risk category for coronavirus.

They are worried tourists flocking from the cities could bring the virus into their town, putting pressure on the already-limited medical services and supermarkets.

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Alan Rutledge has a health condition that means he needs to self-isolate.

He said while he understands tourism in Lake Conjola is needed, people’s health must come before the economy.

“You have to be a bit selfish when you’ve got age and health against you,” Mr Rutledge said.

“If we want to get through this, we have to bunker down.”


















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