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Byron Shire
April 22, 2024

Festival of COVID-19

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Oliver Dunne, Byron Bay

In the past few days, the NSW government appears to have changed direction on managing the COVID-19 pandemic. Not surprisingly, this has left many who had praised its performance and its ‘slow and steady’ strategy feeling totally confused. Suddenly, accelerating a ‘snap back’ to the pre-March economy appears to be the new narrative.

However, there has been no update by our Premier of what is proposed for the big music festivals scheduled for Byron Shire – Splendour in October, and the Falls Festival over the New Year’s break.

I have always been a supporter of the ‘Shire of festivals’ concept. But in this period of COVID-19, and without a vaccine, the question has to be asked: ‘Is our Shire fully prepared for bringing up to 50,000 people together for three days and then letting them loose on the unprotected towns of Byron Bay, Mullumbimby and Brunswick Heads?’

Large intense religious festivals in France and Iran led to uncontrolled COVID-19 outbreaks in these countries. In South Korea, one church gathering affected hundreds. Ditto for the Cheltenham Race Festival in March, where thousands gathered before the lockdown, and then spread the infection into all corners of the UK and Ireland. This event was held days before the UK abandoned its ‘herd immunity without a vaccine’ policy.

For the past six weeks, Wategos Beach has been packed out with young surfers, both local and visiting, all taking advantage of the excellent surf and abundant time to spare. Observing the under-30’s it’s patently clear that they practice zero social distancing, with handshakes, kissing and hugging remaining the norm. They just don’t get it. I understand that, as the feeling of invincibility has always been the essence of youth.

As a deteriorating senior, I don’t mind hiding away a bit longer if it helps young people get back to work earlier, and gets local businesses back up and running. I want to see restaurants reopen, chefs employed and music makers fed. If that’s the deal, I’m happy. However, on the other side of the bargain, we look to our State government and Council not to take unnecessary risks in expediting the return to ‘normal’ economic activity. One Ruby Princess is enough.

If these festivals do go ahead, the organisers will have a COVID-19 safety plan for their customers. But for the community at large, Council should prepare its own special COVID-19 safety plan to make sure Byron doesn’t become known as the origin of the second wave.

So, councillors: if you intend to permit these festivals, let us know very soon about how you propose to protect us.

After all, we are all in this together, aren’t we?

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  1. Please Oliver, don’t give out Premier ideas. In the absence of a successful vaccine this would seem unthinkable but anything is possible under the pressure of big money. I think the only viable safety plan for Council would be mass evacuation of the shire. I would hope someone else pays for it!


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