Tuesday, 7 September 2021
LIKE almost all residents in the Northern Tablelands, I want the current lockdown to end this Friday night, as scheduled.
Over the past four weeks (five for the Armidale Regional LGA) I’ve spoken to hundreds of business owners, families and school students and I understand that people’s relationships, businesses and lives are under enormous pain and stress because of the unique and very challenging set of circumstances we all find ourselves in at the moment.
Together, we’ve worked hard and done everything asked of us by the government. By good management and some good luck, we have no active COVID cases across the Northern Tablelands, our sewage test results are broadly clear and we’ve been rolling up our sleeves to get vaccinated in record numbers.
There comes a time in my view where the ‘health advice’ cannot be the sole determinant of lockdowns and restrictions. There’s no doubt the health advice is critical, but this should be tempered by other considerations, such as impact on people’s mental health and the local economy, especially the survival of small and medium sized businesses, which are the backbone of our country towns.
For example, if you look at cigarettes, the health advice is unequivocal – smoking kills and it should be prohibited. However, governments have not prohibited smoking, even though they accept the health advice, instead opting to regulate the marketing and distribution of cigarettes and restrict where people can smoke, to protect the health of the vast majority of people who do not.
It’s now time to lift the lockdown across our region.
The NSW Health strategy four weeks ago was to use lockdown as a tool to supress COVID – to reduce the speed of the spread of the virus and to give us time to get our vaccination rates up. Well, we cannot supress that which does not exist – we have no COVID here.
Over the past week I’ve been lobbying key senior members of the NSW Government to ensure they understand the impact lockdown is having on people in this region and the need to get on with business here in a COVID-safe way.
The last few weeks have been some of the toughest yet. Small businesses are going to the wall, our students have not been at school, people near the Queensland border are not allowed to cross, loved ones have been separated and people’s mental health has been suffering.
As long as we continue to have no cases in our region, I believe ending the lockdown on Friday night is absolutely critical for our businesses and our communities.
If we do get a case, or cases, in a local government area (LGA) prior to hitting those 70 per cent and 80 per cent statewide fully vaccinated targets (when case numbers and locations no longer matter), then I think it’s fair enough to lockdown that LGA for 14 days to protect people. But to keep us in lockdown when there are no cases, no longer serves a purpose.
There is another disturbing dimension to the continued lockdown. For our border communities, suffering at the hands of a callous and heartless Queensland Government, with its disgraceful hard border policy, our lockdown is providing a convenient excuse for the ‘Premier beyond the wall’ to hide behind.
Lifting the lockdown would certainly help strengthen our arm in discussions with Queensland authorities about easing their border restrictions and once again recognising the border bubble zone, which is vital in the lead up to harvest.
So, while we all await an announcement later this week and keep our fingers crossed, we must all continue the good work and positive momentum across the region – mask up and get vaccinated!
Let’s hope our good track record and cogent argument carries the day and we can soon get back to some form of (COVID-safe) normality in the Northern Tablelands.