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Byron Shire
March 27, 2023

COVID-19 outbreak in Lismore evac centre

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UPDATE: Wednesday, March 16, 11am

The Northern NSW Local Health District said that, to date, there had been 39 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among people attending evacuation centres, primarily in the Lismore region.
‘Approximately one third of these were recorded at the Goonellabah Sports and Evacuation Centre,’ a spokesperson said.
The spokesperson said public health staff had been supporting evacuation centres with advice and assistance throughout the flood emergency and that r antigen testing was available to evacuees and volunteer staff.
‘The District has now established a temporary facility to accommodate COVID-19 positive people who are no longer able to isolate at home,’ the spokesperson said.

A flood evacuation centre in Lismore suffered a COVID-19 outbreak that resulted in a significant number of flood victims becoming infected, local volunteers say.

But the centre was reportedly forced to stay open even as COVID case numbers grew, because there was nowhere else for people to go.

The outbreak is said to have occurred at the Goonellabah Sports & Aquatic Centre (GSAC), which at one point housed more than 500 people who could not return home after the flood.

The GSAC was finally closed on March 11, with all those who remained there being moved to a larger evacuation centre at Southern Cross University.

The volunteers told The Echo that the outbreak appeared to have started not long after the GSAC started being used as an evacuation centre.

With few options for alternative accommodation, staff were said to have put those with the virus in a cordoned-off isolation zone outside the gym until arrangements were made for their permanent accommodation – either in hospital, elsewhere, or, eventually, the isolated COVID rooms upstairs at the GSAC.

Nowhere to go

‘They were just so bombarded with everything – hundreds and hundreds of people coming through who had nowhere else to go,’ one volunteer said.

‘I think it came down to the fact that the majority of people staying at the GSAC were in the gym. There was just so much potential for cross-contamination – it was huge.

‘There was just such a crisis in Lismore, I think it just came down to having no alternative. It was organised chaos in there.’

Another volunteer said that a system of armbands was also reportedly introduced to differentiate those who had tested negative from those who had not.

All visitors to the centre were also required to be tested before entering, and the wearing of masks was implemented more fastidiously.

Volunteers infected virus

Despite these measures, a number of volunteers were also reported to have been infected with the virus.

‘It was all running out of a bit of desperation – everyone was doing their best,’ another volunteer said.

‘The whole COVID thing just added another element of disaster to it.’

The Echo is awaiting a response from the Northern NSW Local Health District, which had responsibility for dealing with COVID cases within the region’s evacuation centres.

For the most up-to-date COVID information visit nsw.gov.au

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