The North Coast has seen a significant rise in vaccination of people aged 15 and over with more than 90 per cent of people in the region predicted to be fully vaccinated by mid-November. However, spokesperson for the Cross Border Task Force (CBTF) and Tweed Shire Mayor, Chris Cherry, has told The Echo that there are significant concerns over the impacts as people start arriving from Sydney.
Healthy North Coast Chief Executive Officer Julie Sturgess said the region had made great progress in vaccinations in recent weeks.
‘As travel restrictions ease across NSW from 1 November the region is now better prepared and protected to deal with the expected influx of visitors. Our first dose coverage is tracking above the national average and is on par with the NSW rate,’ Ms Sturgess said.
‘There is every reason to believe that those who have had their first jab will also have their second. ‘This is a remarkable achievement, but we can’t afford to be complacent. There is still more work to be done.’
It is not just the influx of visitors that bring the risk of increased COVID infection to the area but also the need for workers to be double vaccinated by November 1 that has caused concerns in local businesses and the community.
‘Second dose coverage is still a bit behind the NSW rate, however this is to be expected as the North Coast is playing catch up due to earlier supply constraints,’ Ms Sturgess said.
‘I recently met with all the clubs in the Tweed Shire including those with sporting and recreational facilities,’ said Mayor Cherry.
‘At the moment workers can attend if they have a single vaccination but from November 1 they will have to be double vaccinated to work. There is a fear that the requirement will impact on staffing levels right when we are opening up there will be staff shortages. That is owing to the lag in vaccine supply which means people are still waiting for their second vaccination shot,’ she said.
‘It is just another complication right when people are going to be coming here, right when businesses need our support. This is also coupled with when the financial support will be withdrawn.’
Are hospitals prepared?
Ms Sturgess has highlighted that as the area opens up to tourism again ‘the virus will continue to circulate’.
‘Ahead of this influx of visitors, we are also working with GPs and clinics to help them boost their operational planning and manage the risks. I would also urge people to remain vigilant about their personal hygiene and to follow standard safe practices to protect themselves and others as our borders open to interstate and international travellers,’ she said.
Mayor Cherry acknowledged that there is significant concern throughout the community about the impacts of the virus gaining a greater hold in the region and the impact on health services and hospitals.
‘We have had a lot of assurances from Northern Rivers Area Health (NRAH) about their preparation for the increase of the virus here. They have said they have put a lot of resources into the area and that there will need to be increased testing and hospital beds.
‘The Cross Border Task Force has met with NRAH who have assured us that they do have the contingency plans in place for that increase we do expect. They have said that the Lismore Hospital is set up to cope with that and we not need to rely on Queensland hospitals. This is a particular issue for Tweed because we previously relied on the Queensland hospitals.’
Queensland border opening
Queensland border restrictions will be eased from December 17 for people from COVID hotspots with entrance, without quarantine, allowed for fully vaccinated people who have received a negative COVID test in the previous 72 hours.
Mayor Cherry has said in recent meetings between the CBTF and NRAH ‘they said they have modelled the numbers and are prepared for the increase in testing that will be needed to cross the Qld border’.