Councils’ message to visitors: stay away

Just weeks after bushfire-affected NSW councils were begging tourists to return, they are now being asked to make sure holidaymakers stay away over the upcoming Easter break.

Dr Kerry Chant

Health Minister Brad Hazzard says an influx of city people trying to escape COVID-19 over Easter could create a health crisis for inadequately resourced regions.

“Only six weeks ago we were asking people to travel to the regions to support the economies, now this virus has put paid to that and we need to say don’t come to the regions,” he said during a webinar for local councils on Wednesday.

Mr Hazzard said regional hospitals aren’t set up to respond to an influx of patients, who could also need ambulances to take them to Sydney for high level ICU treatment.

“We are sending out very clear messages, and when people come to your regions who should be back in the city do your damndest to send them back,” he said. “Say we love you dearly, but go home.”

Keep parks open

Mr Hazzard also said while councils have the discretion to shut down local parks, apart from closing play equipment in line with national orders, they should keep parks open unless people are ignoring bans on large gatherings.

Local communities need access to open space to exercise and build up their immune systems and councils must make sure they get it, Mr Hazzard said.

“We’re certainly not encouraging you to close off your parks where people are behaving normally and not aggregating in large numbers,” he said.

“Please don’t shut your parks unless you think there’s a large aggregation of people who haven’t got the message.”

Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said while councils have a key role in enforcement they should also be positive and supportive.

“I also see councils in playing a very proactive way in sharing through your business chambers or business communities examplars of creating social distancing in a positive way,” she said.

“Rather than saying council is about finding non-compliance, it’s also about sharing the good ideas.”

Ms Chant also cautioned against preemptively closing down boarding houses and backpacker accommodation, saying there was a danger of dispersing potentially exposed occupants.

Meanwhile, Mr Hazzard urged councils to consider upping rubbish collection services,  with more people working  at home.

“what I’m being told as health minister is there’s a lot more rubbish in people’s houses and if you’ve only got one small bin being taken out a week that’s presenting very serious issues.

“It think local governments needs to give some serious thought to whether they can up the amount of garbage removed from residences during this crisis period.

Mr Hazzard warned councils that long term adjustments of six months or more would be necessary.

“This is not going to be a two week job,” he said. “all the advice is it’s going to be a lot longer than that.”

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