AS public health restrictions further ease on June 1 that will allow holiday travel for NSW residents to regional areas, the wider Port Stephens community is cautiously awaiting the influx of long weekend crowds.
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The region is used to an increased population during peak periods but this time the holiday break will be very different due to the impacts of COVID-19.
Businesses are seeing limited trading and many are still closed due to health concerns and the financial viability of opening during the pandemic.
Even with Premier Gladys Berejiklian announcing pubs, clubs, cafes and restaurants being able to seat up to 50 patrons in their establishments, many venues won’t have the capacity to operate with the four-square-meter per patron rule.
Mayor Ryan Palmer is optimistic that locals and visitors alike will do the right thing and help get the local economy ticking over once more.
“All the way through this crisis we have always acted on the best medical advice available to protect the people of Port Stephens,” said Mayor Palmer.
“The medical advice is now saying it is safe to travel to regional NSW, while ensuring that we all still take the necessary precautions.
“It is now time to do what we do best, in opening up our businesses and sharing our amazing place with visitors.”
Port Stephens MP Kate Washington said getting the balance right between the tourism industry and protecting the regions most vulnerable is the priority.
“Balancing the interests of a tourism economy with an older community particularly susceptible to this awful virus warrants a cautious approach,” said Ms Washington.
“If we move too fast we could easily return to fewer freedoms, and much worse, we could lose lives.
“People are welcome to escape the confines of their homes and visit us, but it does not mean they escape the risk of the virus.
“We must all stay vigilant.”
It’s this parity between the local economy and community safety that is key in moving forward through the impacts of the CoronaVirus says Mayor Palmer.
“The local tourism economy is worth around $2 million a day and supports thousands of local jobs,” he said.
“Council will be preparing our public areas to ensure that all safety precautions are taken with new signage, new handwashing facilities and all other necessary precautions.
“We will also be working with local businesses, with a new training course being offered shortly in how to prepare a business for the new COVID-19 world.”
Boat ramps will also reopen to the general public from Monday, 1 June with campgrounds and walking trails expected to open as well.
By Mitch LEES