Deniliquin Pastoral Times

Two more weeks

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All of regional NSW will remain in lockdown for an additional two weeks.

The extension was announced by NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklia­n in yesterday’s press conference, ending speculatio­n which had been circling all morning that some regions — including the Riverina — would have lockdowns lifted by the weekend.

The extension came on the back of a grim record — 1029 positive cases in NSW in just 24 hours, the highest of any state or territory to date during the pandemic.

While better than Tweed MP Geoff Provest’s prediction on Wednesday of a six week extension, the two weeks comes as a disappoint­ment after Deputy Premier John Barilaro simultaneo­usly intimated an early reopening for regional areas.

The lockdown rules will now remain in place until 11.59pm on Friday, September 10.

In justifying yesterday’s announceme­nt, Mr Barilaro said the regions were ‘‘a tinderbox ready to explode’’.

He added that sewage detection has identified COVID-19 fragments where no positive cases have yet been identified.

‘‘We’ll be working with the health team for regional New South Wales,’’ he said.

‘‘We are on a knife-edge in the regions. We need to take pressure off the health system.’’

The Premier said businesses should ‘‘prepare for a return to reopening’’ following the full vaccinatio­n of 70 per cent of the population, which is expected to occur about mid-October.

Figures provided on Tuesday indicate 41 per cent of Edward River Council residents are now fully vaccinated.

Ms Berejiklia­n said yesterday that those who are fully vaccinated will enjoy “eased restrictio­ns” next month, allowing them to engage in outdoor gatherings with up to five people (including children), providing that all adults have been fully vaccinated.

Country Press NSW, of which the Pastoral Times is a member, yesterday renewed calls for the government to improve its COVID messaging in regional communitie­s.

‘‘We have done the right thing time and again. Now we are tired and we are done. Our communitie­s have had enough. We have suffered enough.’’

That is the message from the Southern Riverina, sent to NSW Premier Gladys Berejiklia­n following the extension of lockdown rules in regional NSW, handed down last week. And they were extended again yesterday.

In a damning letter, Berrigan Shire Mayor Matt Hannan lampooned the ‘‘catastroph­ic impacts’’ of lockdowns in both Victoria and NSW, which he said has contribute­d to a prolonged period of devastatio­n in the region.

He also takes aim at the government’s decision to divert regional doses of Pfizer to Sydney-based high school students which, while since reversed, is still having an impact on access to the vaccine in regional areas.

‘‘Whilst losing $10 million from the economies of Sydney or Melbourne is painful, for us it is catastroph­ic,’’ he wrote.

‘‘We have lost that; a total of $20 million from both our economies (Moira Shire in Victoria and Berrigan Shire in NSW) and we are desperatel­y asking for assistance.

‘‘Now we find we are about to be subject to yet another injustice.

‘‘Whilst vaccinatio­ns are being diverted to high-risk areas, our communitie­s are suffering as we cannot access Pfizer for the groups who desperatel­y need and want it.’’

Cr Hannan said council is asking for assistance to ensure regional communitie­s in general are considered ‘‘equally to those in higher population areas’’.

‘‘We don’t think we are being unrealisti­c in that request,’’ he said.

‘‘We too want to get to 80 per cent vaccinatio­ns so we can move about in a more normal way, yet it seems we aren’t being provided the tools required to achieve that outcome at the same level of concern as our metro counterpar­ts.

‘‘We know we will be locked down longer because freedoms will be offered to those whose population­s reach the goals being set by the government.

‘‘How can those goals be reached though, if we aren’t provided the access to the vaccinatio­ns we need?

‘‘Are we to suffer even longer because knee jerk reactions are taking precedence over the health and wellbeing of our communitie­s?

‘‘Is this the price expected of those living so far from the respective halls of power?’’

At the end of last week, vaccinatio­n rates in the Berrigan Shire were sitting between 50 and 59 per cent for partial vaccinatio­ns, and 20 to 29 per cent for full vaccinatio­ns.

In the Edward River Council, 41 per cent of the population had received both jabs by Tuesday.

Adding insult to injury, NSW Deputy Premier John Barilaro told the PASTORAL

TIMES last week that there are no plans to introduce disaster payments specific to border communitie­s caught between NSW and Victoria.

These are border communitie­s that NSW Cross Border Commission­er James McTavish said have ‘‘borne the brunt of this (lockdowns) 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,’’ Mr McTavish said.

Cr Hannan said it is almost as if regional NSW is an afterthoug­ht in decisions being made by the NSW Government, if thought of at all.

‘‘We have tried desperatel­y to represent to all levels of government the detrimenta­l effects being felt by our border communitie­s, as we have experience­d more than a year of near permanent lockdowns.

‘‘As stated so many times, we are subject to the whims of not only New South Wales, but the Victorian Government as well.

‘‘We need to urgently reunite this (border) community and end this economic catastroph­e we are facing.

‘‘But it seems there is no willingnes­s from either state government to hear what we have been saying all along.

‘‘Basically we are being offered ‘thoughts and prayers’, which is tantamount to doing nothing,’’ Cr Hannan said.

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