WITH increasing cases of COVID-19 in the region, community concern has been running high around visitation over the Easter and school holiday break.
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On Sunday 5 April NSW Health Minister Brad Hazzard stated, “Some people are not heading the message, not to travel, the fact that on the north coast, central coast and south coast we are seeing large numbers of people coming into those areas, five days out from Easter, the Easter vacation is quite appalling.
“I know Aussies like to thumb their noses at authority, but on this occasion I would ask you to not thumb your nose because the messages we are giving you are about keeping you alive, keeping your family alive, keeping your friends alive and making sure the community stays safe.
“If you have headed off for a sneaky little holiday, my message to you is go home… you have been told very clearly why you should be home… don’t take a sneaky holiday, don’t put everybody at risk,” he said.
Police have visited holiday businesses in Tea Gardens/Hawks Nest ensuring that holiday booking businesses are cancelling bookings and turning visitors away.
Port Stephens and Tea Gardens/Hawks Nest is the place where Australia’s grandparents chose to live.
We have the highest mean age in New South Wales and we have residents here who are literally living treasures.
These people have paid their dues – many are pensioners and some self-funded retirees.
There are businesses struggling to keep the doors open and others devastated that they have had to close their doors.
Many in our community are for the first time ever faced with the need to apply to Centrelink for help.
We are not unique in these challenges, they are faced by small communities across the state.
However action to prevent visitation in holiday hot spots like Port Stephens is important.
It is based on two aspects, one that they visitors will bring the virus with them creating an environment which increases the risk of catching COVID-19 and secondly, the fact that our health services simply are not capable of providing enough beds for residents let alone a visiting population if the pandemic takes hold.
Fortunately a new order by NSW Health has restricted visitors to our region.
Going on holidays is now listed as non-essential travel.
This change gives our vulnerable elderly residents protection from this virus.
A State Government mandate has also seen the Council run caravan parks closed.
While both the State and Federal Government are working to find more ventilators we are still at risk.
Port Stephens Tomaree Community Hospital is not equipped to deal with ICU cases and never has been – that means that the majority of cases that arrive at the Community Hospital are shipped via ambulance to John Hunter Hospital; a one hour road journey that monopolises our ambulance.
There are no ICU beds here.
Kate Washington Member for Port Stephens told News Of The Area, I wrote to the minister saying, “These are exceptionally difficult times and for a tourist area to turn tourists away is ordinarily unfathomable.
“However, the current public health crisis demands strong action and my priority lies in protecting the vulnerable community I represent.”
Ms Washington like many in the community is thankful that holidaymaking in our region is now off the table.
“This week, the Prime Minister, the Premier, the local police and the Public Health Orders have made it very clear – no-one is to holiday in Port Stephens during this crisis.
“We need to protect our vulnerable residents and ensure our local hospitals aren’t overwhelmed by an influx of tourists.
“With the laws we needed now in place, our police are trying to ensure everyone understands the changes. But they are big changes and it’s a challenging, complicated time.
“So I ask everyone to be patient, kind and caring, and as a community, we’ll get through this,.”
Many residents are effectively locked down, our over 70’s, Indigenous over 50’s those over 60 with underlying health conditions.
Ms Washingotn’s top priorities are clear “During this public health crisis, our people are my priority, their health and well-being is my focus.
“I will be doing my best to support our community – from small businesses to vulnerable families – so we can all survive this storm as best we can,” she said.
These will be trying times – this is when Australian’s put their best foot forward.
By Marian SAMPSON