Regional New South Wales wakes up to patchwork of freedoms, COVID-19 lockdowns

© ABC News Residents in the 12 local government areas out of lockdown are now able to enjoy more freedoms.

People in regional NSW have woken to a new patchwork of COVID-19 lockdowns after restrictions were changed in more than a dozen areas.

Yesterday, stay-at-home orders were imposed on the Albury and Lismore local government areas (LGAs) to prevent the spread of COVID-19 in the community after cases were detected.

Health officials are investigating two cases in Albury where the source of infection is unclear, but Deputy Chief Health Officer Marianne Gale said they could have “possible links” to Sydney. 

The two cases are not thought to be related to each other.

In the Lismore area, a person was confirmed to have the virus yesterday. A health official for the Northern NSW Local Health District said the person had been infectious in the community since September 12, and had acquired COVID-19 on a recent trip to Sydney.

A school they visited on Monday was forced to close and is undergoing deep cleaning, while a number of other venues have been listed as exposure sites.

Deputy Premier John Barilaro said putting Lismore back into lockdown was “right and appropriate” given the extent of exposure was not yet known.

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Dr Gale added that widespread vaccine hesitancy in the region had contributed to the re-introduction of stay-at-home orders.

“I’m sure if that was in another LGA, we would make a similar decision but, clearly knowing some of the vaccine hesitancy in that particular area itself, we would have a higher level of caution,” she said.

“We do understand there is a segment of the population who would have strong views about [vaccines].”

The two LGAs had only come out of lockdown last Saturday.

Officers from the Richmond Police District have started to investigate whether the public health orders where breached in Lismore.

The local area commander, Superintendent Scott Tanner, said he understood the community’s frustration, but it was essential to stop any potential transmission.

“We know it’s in our community, we have to reduce the liability because if we don’t, and it gets away from us, we are going to end up like the communities that we are seeing especially out west, where these lockdowns can go for months,” he said.

From 6:00pm AEST yesterday, Queensland reinstated border restrictions for those people in the Lismore LGA, which is about 100km from the border.

Just three days ago, communities were celebrating the reopening of the border bubble between NSW and Queensland, which allowed travel for essential work, school, essential shopping, medical reasons or caring for people.

Queensland’s Chief Health Officer, Jeannette Young, said it was “critically important” people who had been to Lismore in the past two weeks did not cross the border.

“Those currently in Queensland who have been in the Lismore area in the last 14 days should come forward, get tested and isolate until they receive a negative result,” she said.

The Cross-Border Commissioner for NSW, James McTavish acknowledged the heavy toll the health orders were having on these close-knit communities but warned going in and out of lockdown could continue for months.

“For people who are in these border communities, they’ve had a pretty tough 20 months or so,” he said.

“We’ve seen dozens of changes to rules on each border, we’ve seen substantial issues impacting people — economic, social, cultural issues that have been quite substantial.

“I note there is still, you know, the potential for outbreaks of COVID right across regional NSW. People need to continue to be vigilant.”

Lismore business owner Hope Shadbolt’s first week out of lockdown was “absolutely pumping”, and while it was a mind shift to have to go back into lockdown, she said supported the government.

“It’s a bit of a safety net, knowing that the government is on it straight away,” she said.

“We would want nothing worse than for Sydney to happen [here] because that’s only going to mean our business is closed for even longer.” 

Meanwhile, 12 regional LGAs came out of lockdown at 1:00pm on Thursday.

People in Bega, Blayney, Bogan, Cabonne, Dungog, Forbes, Muswellbrook, Narrabri, Parkes, Singleton, Snowy Monaro and Upper Hunter can now do things like go to the gym, have up to five visitors in their homes and dance at weddings.

Commercial Hotel publican Mitch Creary, said his Bega venue was ready to go and while it was a great feeling to be finally opening up again, he would have liked a bit more time to prepare.

“I’m super excited but also super nervous because I’d thought we would have had a day or two to prepare, not be open straight away,” he said.

“We’ve been lucky that we have been doing take away so we have some stock already.”

Eden-Monaro federal MP Kristy McBain welcomed the new freedoms, but said the false positive cases confirmed by NSW Health on Wednesday had caused frustration because the region had to remain in lockdown a week longer than other regions.

“It’s been a hard few weeks for a lot of locals, especially on the back of what’s already been a pretty tumultuous 20 months,” she said.

“I think the frustration lies in community members not been properly informed about what was going on, but now that we are here I’m sure everyone will be happy to get out and about during the school holiday period and support their local businesses again.”

Last week, Mr Barilaro outlined exactly what would send regional areas in and out of lockdown — and it was as simple as having just one COVID-19 case.

“If a case arises, we will apply the same logic that we apply from day one, which was the Orange case,” he said.

“Where we put that community into lockdown, and we would lockdown automatically an area for at least a 14-day period, the incubation period.”

However, the ones announced for Lismore and Albury are only one week — a timeframe described by Health Minister Brad Hazzard as “appropriate” to “try and get a handle on what exactly is going on in the local areas”.

“In the normal course, more often than not, [NSW] Health determines it will be 14 days,” Mr Barilaro said.

“But, in this case, looking at the issues, [NSW] Health has determined that seven days will be appropriate, but I’m just warning the community that it may be longer.”

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