Deniliquin Pastoral Times
Two more weeks
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.