Deniliquin Pastoral Times
Make it two
Regional NSW will remain in lockdown for seven more days, to at least August 28.
NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklian made the announcement from Sydney yesterday morning, following a crisis meeting with health officials and the NSW Government on Wednesday afternoon.
And efforts to get exemptions for border communities due to the zero case numbers have fallen on deaf ears.
Wednesday’s discussions were to determine whether the state would remain under a blanket lockdown or whether local government areas with a low risk would benefit from a ‘‘localised approach’’ to eased restrictions, but Ms Berejiklian said her aim is to reach no cases in regional areas to let vaccination rates climb to 80 per cent.
‘‘We know that there are vast areas of New South Wales where there aren’t any cases, but everybody will appreciate and expect us to take a precautionary response given we have the opportunity to get down to zero cases in the regions,’’ she said yesterday.
NSW reported 681 cases of community transmission to the 24 hours to 8pm Wednesday, including 25 in Western NSW and one case in Goulburn.
Ms Berejiklian expects 80 per cent of the NSW population to be fully vaccinated by mid-November.
As of Thursday, 53 per cent of NSW residents had received their first dose and 28 per cent were fully vaccinated.
In the 2710 postcode, between 30-39 per cent of the population is fully vaccinated and 50-59 per cent have received a first dose.
‘‘Once we get those high vaccination rates, life will look much better and life will look rosier,’’ Ms Berejiklian said.
While Deputy Premier John Barilaro acknowledged on Monday that the ‘‘whole Murray border has had more pain than mostly any other border’’, neither he nor Ms Berejiklian offered a definitive plan for the border moving forward.
For border residents, the Premier said the onus was on NSW Cross Border Commissioner James McTavish to negotiate what life would be like.
Mr McTavish said he would like to see regional Victorians be able to freely visit the NSW border bubble to reduce the “devastating” economic impact of the pandemic.
“There are 2.5 million people in the New South Wales border area, and they’ve borne the brunt of this for 18 months.
‘‘There’s quite a long way to go with the pandemic, but we’d like to see the needs of those border communities recognised,” he said.
He added he would like to see the four LGAs of Murrumbidgee, Hay Shire, Lockhart Shire and Wagga City councils returned to the border bubble region after they were ‘‘arbitrarily’’ removed.
The Victorian Government closed its border to NSW residents on July 11, unless travelling for one of six essential reasons. Border residents now require a permit to be able to cross, which has been in place since August 12.
‘‘While the situation in New South Wales remains such a high risk to Victoria, we need to do everything we can to protect our border from further incursions, which put at risk everything Victorians have sacrificed to this point in the pandemic,’’ Victorian Premier Andrews said last month.
‘‘We know the changes to border rules have been a challenge for border residents, but the permit will improve our ability to track who is entering Victoria from NSW and make it easier to rapidly get information to contact tracers and to monitor for compliance.’’
Ms Berejiklian said renewing the border bubble would be considered when restrictions ease on the current lockdown, with agreement from leaders in neighbouring states, but she could not guarantee they would do the same.
Five councils within the border bubble — including Edward River and Murray River — are establishing a strategy to lobby for better outcomes for NSW-Victoria border residents, including access to essential services and industries and membership to Victorian services.
It was prompted by a Murray Regional Tourism report which found that the entire border region lost $1 billion and 10,000 jobs from its economy in the year ending March 2021, primarily due to snap lockdowns and similar COVID restrictions.
Murray River Council recently committed up to $100,000 to an advertising campaign to elevate its plight in Melbourne, but Cr Bilkey said the recent changes to border rules showed Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews ‘‘does not have the appetite’’ to make tourism possible in the area again and said those finances will be strategically used when the time is right.
Mr McTavish said criteria for the reinstatement of a ‘green border’ had ‘‘never’’ been communicated to him.
Edward River Council is yet to discuss what level of financial support it would contribute to the strategy, while plans to attract visitors from south-eastern NSW have been halted by the lockdown.
An ERC spokesperson said council staff are meeting with Mr McTavish twice a week to advocate ‘‘for better consultation and support for our residents’’.
‘‘Our Community and Economic Development team is currently working on a revised marketing plan for New South Wales and Victoria, which of course is dependent on restrictions easing and the border being reopened,’’ the spokesperson said.
The Premier said the aggressiveness of the Delta strain means NSW will ‘‘have to learn to live with’’ COVID rather than avoid it.
‘‘By mid-November, the conversation needs to be around not how many cases we have, but how many people we’re keeping out of hospital,’’ Ms Berejiklian said.
Murrumbidgee Local Health District chief executive Jill Ludford said MLHD is preparing hospitals for a potential outbreak after positive cases were detected in regional health districts, including three positive sewage detections in Shepparton.
‘‘Our way out of it is vaccination and continuation with our public health measures,’’ Ms Ludford said.
MLHD is urging everyone to get vaccinated and follow stay at home orders while hospitals in Griffith and Wagga Wagga prepare to treat any COVID-positive people.
She added COVID-19 testing and contact tracing are ready to be ramped up as needed.