The impact of the coronavirus threat is clearly being felt across the Shire with Southern Cross University closing its Gold Coast and Lismore campuses yesterday (Wednesday, March 11) after a staff member was diagnosed with COVID-19.
Virtually every local supermarket has experienced a mad rush on toilet paper, echoing the nation-wide trend of people stocking up on the staple for fear of one apocalyptic scenario or another.
‘We’ve had a rush on toilet paper, tissues, long-life milk, hand sanitiser and canned goods,’ Maddy, a staff member at Byron Woolies said.
‘We’ve been trying to get a bit extra, but it does seem to go quite quickly.’
Perhaps more worrying, given the local economy’s reliance on tourism, is a downturn in the number of people visiting the Shire.
The head of Destination Byron, David Jones, said while he had not spoken to many operators about COVID-19 specifically, there was ‘certainly a demand downturn underway’.
‘There could be some horrible times ahead,’ said Mr Jones, who is also the sales and marketing manager at Elements of Byron.
‘From Elements’ perspective, the biggest area of risk is the events and conference market.
‘We’ve seen some last-minute groups reallocating their travels from abroad to domestic. We’ve also seen that, pending travel advisories, their travels might not be going ahead.’
These travel advisories had the potential to put a big dent in the local tourism industry, he said.
‘As soon as a government advisory is in affect [warning people against travelling to Australia or anywhere overseas] that can trigger an Act of God clause.
‘That renders their contract with an operator null and void.
‘I think people still feel fairly safe domestically, but that will change once these numbers continue to grow.’
One factor in Byron’s favour was that the region did not rely heavily on tourists from China.
‘I think Byron is slightly more immune – we don’t tend to have as many Asian travellers,’ Mr Jones said.
‘And the backpackers here are pretty much locked in. I think we’ll fare better than the Gold Coast and Cairns. But I think people will stop travelling domestically if, and when, the numbers continue to grow.’
Bluesfest to go ahead
There has been considerable social media discussion about the possibility that another major tourism drawcard, Byron Bluesfest, could be cancelled owing to the spread of the virus.
While scores of events across the globe have been cancelled, Bluesfest organisers have vowed that the show will go on.
‘All events of a public nature in Australia are proceeding in the entertainment and sporting areas, and we look forward to presenting our best Bluesfest yet,’ festival director Peter Noble said.
‘It’s business as usual.While the Coronavirus is of obvious concern, the key instruction provided by authorities on the matter is to regularly wash your hands with soap, and to use hand sanitiser if that’s not possible.’
Meanwhile, the Northern NSW Local Health District said testing for COVID-19 had been occurring at facilities within the Northern NSW Local Health District since mid-February.
‘All NSW public health units, including North Coast Public Health Unit staff based at Lismore, are experienced in working closely with local clinicians in preparing for public health responses.
‘This includes recently participating in exercises using various scenarios to maximise our preparedness.’