RED ZONE PLEA: Why Tweed leader fears 'perfect storm'
TOURISTS flouting coronavirus pandemic restrictions have forced the Tweed mayor to call for a region-wide "red zone" lockdown.
After her pleas for a national lockdown and closure of NSW borders fell on deaf ears, Katie Milne reacted to public feedback about an influx of people into the Tweed at the weekend and the lack of social distancing today.
The Tweed Daily News understands a red zone would allow for those classed as essential workers to travel to work and provided exemptions for things like medical treatment but essentially stop all other travel in and out of the shire.
Cr Milne believed the special conditions in the Tweed provided a "perfect storm" unless something was done.
"We must be even more vigilant in our shire," she said.
"We have 32 per cent of our residents aged over 60 and 4.4 per cent of residents are Aboriginal - they are all in the vulnerable category.
"We also have an international airport on our doorstep, with the added risks that brings, and hospital facilities that were already stretched.
"We are a high tourist area and given the Queensland elections that took place on the weekend, we need to be doing everything we can to protect our community."
Cr Milne said she was still calling for the Federal Government to announce a national lockdown, at least until medical facilities and staff were given the essentials to keep up with the pandemic.
She said that failing a countrywide stop, NSW should close its borders.
"We have to change everything we do, every single system we have in place … at work and at home," Cr Milne said.
"We want to make sure we have the best chance of survival, if our nurses and doctors and hospitals are overwhelmed and there is not enough essential equipment for them, then we are in real trouble.
"It is not fair to those who might die if the situation was preventable.
"I am desperately trying to get the message out - please look after Tweed, lock down Tweed. Give us that consideration and recognise our particular vulnerabilities."
State Member for Lismore Janelle Saffin and Federal Member for Richmond Justine Elliot, both with electorate boundaries falling within the Tweed, have also supported closing the NSW border.
Mrs Elliot said she believed there was merit for the Tweed, as well as Byron and Ballina Shires, to be considered red zones.
"We have a massive health emergency on our hands, the NSW Premier needs to act - for the health and safety of our residents, I beg the Premier, close the border," she said.
"With Easter and NSW holidays coming up we are already seeing people coming to the North Coast for holidays and having that number of people here is incredibly detrimental during this pandemic."
Mrs Elliot said the concern for the older population of the area also contributed to considering a red zone classification.
"My office has been inundated with people wanting to see the border closed," she said.
"A lot of people contacting me are worried about the influx of tourists to our region.
"We understand why, it is a beautiful part of the county, but this is not the time to come during the pandemic."
Tweed councillor James Owen confirmed he was also taking action about the number of Queensland residents, with Queensland-registered vehicles, partaking in unnecessary travel and heading south across the border to visit our beaches, headlands and hinterland.
"I know there are many people in the Tweed who also own Queensland plates but currently Queensland residents can travel freely into the Tweed and back again but NSW residents can't do the same," Cr Owen said.
"In recent days there has been a significant increase in Covid-19 in Queensland, with the majority of cases in the southeast of the state.
"Conversely, Northern NSW has one of the lowest Covid-19 rates in NSW but with concerns about potential transmission from Queensland to NSW, this number could increase significantly and rapidly."
Cr Owen wrote to State Member for Tweed Geoff Provest and Premier Gladys Berejiklian earlier this week to relay to them the concerns he'd received but said he wasn't specifically calling for a border closure.
Mr Provest said he relied on the advice from the "chief medical officer, Deputy Premier, senior police officer and medicos in this neck of the woods, who have informed me at the moment they don't believe it (closing the NSW border) is necessary".
"I am not advocating for the closure of the border but that may come in the future if people don't stop congregating and ignoring medical advice about social distancing," he said.
Mr Provest explained he did not support making Tweed a red zone as "I don't think it is right for people to come out and say various statements without the backing of that medical advice".
He said NSW had a testing regimen well over double of that in Queensland and Victoria and therefore had accurate data on the virus, which other states were lagging in.